First Lady Reschedules Schools Speech After Student Protests

Thursday, 24 Apr 2014 08:20 PM

 

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Michelle Obama will now address graduating high school seniors in Topeka, Kan., a day earlier than originally planned, the White House said Thursday, addressing concerns by students and parents that her participation in a combined graduation ceremony for five schools would limit seating for family and friends.

A furor over what the Topeka public school district considered an honor erupted after plans for the first lady's address were announced.

She had accepted the district's invitation to speak May 17 at the combined ceremony to mark that day's 60th anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, outlawing school segregation. The case originated in Topeka.

Under a new plan worked out by the district, the first lady will speak on May 16 at a "senior recognition day" ceremony at the same 8,000-seat arena where the combined ceremony was to be held. That ceremony is being scrapped so the five schools can hold separate graduation exercises instead.

Since Mrs. Obama will no longer speak at a graduation, seating would not need to be limited due to concerns over her security.

The first lady's communications director, Maria Cristina Gonzalez Noguera, said Mrs. Obama wants everyone to have the opportunity to attend a graduation ceremony.

"Once we learned about the concerns of some students, we were eager to find a solution that enabled all of the students and their families to celebrate the special day," the spokeswoman said Thursday.

Eighteen-year-old Taylor Gifford had launched an online petition urging the school district to reconsider its plans. Gifford and the more than 1,200 people who had signed it expressed concern that Mrs. Obama's visit would limit guest seating.

The first lady's office announced the compromise while President Barack Obama was traveling in Asia.

© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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