The superintendent of a South Jersey school district stands behind the student performance of songs about President Obama that created a national stir last month.
The video that captured the children is another matter.
Burlington Township Superintendent Christopher Manno today discussed the results of an internal investigation concerning the controversial songs. He and Denise King, principal of B. Bernice Young Elementary School, were "deeply disturbed" by the YouTube.com posting of a video that featured second-graders at the school, he said. He added that he had apologized to the students' parents at a recent meeting.
The video was taken on March 23 during an "impromptu" performance of two tunes the youngsters learned in honor of Black History Month for a school assembly in February, Manno said. The lyrics, which describe Obama's accomplishments and his views on equality, are punctuated with the recitation of the president's name, Barack Hussein Obama.
The school had sent the songs' lyrics to parents in advance and received no complaints before or after the assembly, which family members attended, Manno said.
Charisse Carney-Nunes, author of I Am Barack Obama, a biography for young readers, was visiting the school and the video was taken by her sister in violation district policy, Manno said. The district forbids a student from being photographed or videotaped without parental permission, he said.
Manno said today that he has sent a reminder to staff members that visitors are not to record students' images on school property. He said that teachers and administrators did not realize that the video was being taken at the time.
Manno said he was "not exactly sure" if the district would take action against the videographer. The administration has been in talks with its attorney, he said.
A memo also had been sent to teachers reminding them to be "extra vigilant . . . so as not to give the impression of promoting" a political ideology in their lessons, he said.
Manno said that teacher Elvira James, whose students are seen in the video, had "no intent whatsoever" to take a political stand with the songs. James' recent retirement, after a 33-year career, was not related to publicity surrounding the video, he said.
About 70 people gathered outside of the school this morning to protest the children's performance, which conservative political commentators have said were an attempt to encourage idolatry of the president.
The rally was organized by Ocean County resident Fredy Lowe, a supporter of the anti-tax Tea Party political protest group, at the behest of Gina Pronchick, whose son was a member of the class that was videotaped.
The group defied a request by Manno not to demonstrate while school was in session, which the superintendent said could intimidate the children.
Lowe carried a sign that read "We're Here for the Children" and "Reassign Principal King" as fellow protesters sang "America the Beautiful" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and chanted "Education not indoctrination" and "Free children, free minds."
There were also about 10 counter-protestors, including Andrea Ciemnolonski, whose daughter Kaitlin was in the class. Ciemnolonski said she was fine with the song and that her daughter doesn't even remember the words.
"They sang it twice, it's over," she said.
At the February assembly where Manno said the song was first performed, other classes sang songs honoring George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in honor of President's Day.
Protestor Jim Isaia, a member of the 9-12 Project founded by Fox News commentator Glenn Beck, said that the fact that Obama is the current president politicized the song.
"It shouldn't have been about a standing president," said Isaia, of Vincentown. "If it had been about Clinton it wouldn't have been objectionable."