BURLINGTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) – A school for kindergartners through second-graders in a comfortable Philadelphia suburb has become the latest target of accusations by conservatives that schoolchildren are being indoctrinated to idolize President Barack Obama.
The controversy grows out of a school assembly during Black History Month in February, when gripes about the freshly inaugurated president were still mostly hushed.
That month, a group of smiley and fidgety students at B. Bernice Young School sang a medley of two short songs praising the president.
The first song begins, “Mmm, mmm, mmm, Barack Hussein Obama/He said that all must lend a hand/To make this country strong again.”
The second one was set to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and included the refrain, “Hooray, Mr. President.”
While the performance is seven months old, the outrage is new and came about because of the discovery of a YouTube video.
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It’s been fodder for conservative opinion leaders such as columnist and blogger Michelle Malkin and Fox News Channel host Glenn Beck.
The notion that schoolchildren are being subjected to partisan politics rather than taught civics emerged earlier this month before an Obama speech to students was played in thousands of schools.
By then, unlike February, there was broader mistrust of Obama, particularly over his health insurance overhaul plans. Concerns that he would use his speech to students as a political tool grew partly because the White House initially released a lesson plan encouraging students to “help the president.”
The plan was revised and the message to students was not overtly political.
News about the song brought a quick response from New Jersey’s Department of Education.
Spokeswoman Beth Auerswald said the department wants “to ensure students can celebrate the achievements of African Americans during Black History Month without inappropriate partisan politics in the classroom.”
Auerswald said the state would also look into whether posting the video online violated the privacy of students.
Superintendent Christopher Manno defended the performance in Friday’s editions of the Burlington County Times.
“There was no intention to indoctrinate children,” he said. “The teacher’s intention was to engage the children in an activity to recognize famous and accomplished African Americans.”
He said he would not identify the teacher who led the song. State education officials said she retired at the end of the last school year.
The source of the video is not entirely clear. In Malkin’s column, she said it was posted in June on the YouTube channel of author Charisse Carney-Nunes, who wrote the children’s book “I Am Barack Obama.”
The song medley was presented to Carney-Nunes, who had been invited to the school, as a demonstration of a project the children had put together, her public relations firm said in a statement.
“Charisse feels it is unfortunate that an event put together with sincere intentions to encourage literacy while celebrating the contributions of African Americans to our great nation has become political fodder and hopes cooler heads will prevail,” the hoverFly media statement said.
The video was ubiquitous online Friday but was not listed under Carney-Nunes’ feed.
Officials at the Burlington Township Board of Education did not return calls Friday to discuss the incident or how much public response it received, and the district’s Web site was not available.
Leslie Gibson, the mother of a kindergartner and a second-grader, said the incident was not addressed in Thursday evening’s back-to-school assembly.
Gibson said that while parents had different views about how problematic the song may have been, one thing was unanimous: They don’t like having television trucks and reporters camped out on the streets near the school.
Friday afternoon, there were two police cars posted outside the building.
There wasn’t much protest, though. One man, Chris Concannon, from nearby Magnolia, was outside hoping to speak with school officials about what happened.
“It’s just like the Hitler Youth all over again,” said Concannon, an unemployed 26-year-old former National Guardsman. “They should be learning history, but instead they’re being taught to worship the president.”