What's the matter with Kansas?
First Lady Michelle Obama is scheduled to address the combined high school graduating class of the Topeka, KS school district next month and some of the students are upset about it.
One student, 18 year old Taylor Gifford, began a petition to ask Mrs. Obama not to speak because there would be limited seating for family and friends. Gifford's petition has already gotten 1200 signatures.
If expanding the guest list to include Michelle Obama at graduation for high school students in the Kansas capital city means fewer seats for friends and family, some students and their parents would prefer the first lady not attend.
A furor over what the Topeka school district considers an honor has erupted after plans were announced for Obama to address a combined graduation ceremony for five area high schools next month an 8,000-seat arena. For some, it was the prospect of a tight limit on the number of seats allotted to each graduate. For others, it was the notion that Obama's speech, tied to the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education outlawing segregation in schools, would overshadow the student's big day.
"I'm a single mother who has raised him for 18 years by myself," said Tina Hernandez, parent of Topeka High School senior Dauby Knight. "I've told him education is the only way out. This is one of the biggest days of their lives. They've taken the glory and shine from the children and put on Mrs. Obama. She doesn't know our kids."
Hernandez was among the parents and students who spoke Thursday at a school board meeting and urged district officials to reconsider their decision to invite Obama. Ron Harbaugh, spokesman for the Topeka school district, said Friday discussions were under way to work out the logistics and planning for the event, including how many tickets each family would be allotted.
"We will have a clearer picture of what's going on," Harbaugh said.
Harbaugh said officials asked the president or first lady to speak at graduation as a tie-in with the anniversary of the Brown decision, which outlawed school segregation. The district plans to place a priority on seating students and their families, and could broadcast the event to an overflow room at a hotel adjacent to the graduation arena for those unable to find a seat inside.
That's not good enough for Taylor Gifford, 18, who started an online petition Thursday evening to urge the district to reconsider its plans. She and the more than 1,200 people who had signed it expressed concern that Obama's visit would limit the seating options for family and friends.
I'm sure some parents don't want their kids to be a prop in the administration's PR production either. The focus should be on the graduates, not the commencement speaker.
Commemorating the Brown decision is fine. Even doing it in Kansas is OK. But legitimate questions can be asked if a high school graduation is an appropriate venue to mark the anniversary. There is a national historic site that marks the place where the school involved in the Brown decision used to be located. That might be a more appropriate location for Mrs. Obama's remarks.
The speech will be billed as "non-political" but that's impossible. The context of the First Lady's remarks will be nothing but political and you can bet there will be veiled references that accuse Republicans of "wanting to go back" to segregated schools. Otherwise, what's the point of sending her out there in the first place?
Not much chance the school board will withdraw the invitation.But maybe Mrs. Obama will take the hint and decline to attend. The day should be focused on the kids and parents and not become a photo op to advance the administration's political agenda.