BURLINGTON, N.J. —The Burlington Township N.J. schools superintendent 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.
Superintendent Christopher Manno discussed the results Monday 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 posting of a video that featured second graders at the school, he said. He added he had apologized to the students' parents at a recent meeting.
The video was taken March 23 during an "impromptu" performance of two tunes the youngsters had 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 full name.
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The school 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 her sister recorded the video in violation of district policy, Manno said. The district forbids a student from being photographed or videotaped without parental permission, he said.
Manno said he had sent a reminder to staff members that visitors were not to record students' images on school property. He said teachers and administrators did not realize at the time the video was being made.
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 has 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 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 the controversy, he said.
About 70 people gathered outside the school Monday 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, N.J., resident Fredy Lowe, a supporter of the tea party political protests, at the behest of Gina Pronchick, whose son was a member of the class that was videotaped.
The group defied Manno's request not to demonstrate while school was in session, which he 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-protesters, 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 Presidents Day.