Miami School Board Objects to Michelle Obama’s Visit to School

Michelle Obama
U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama

First lady Michelle Obama will stop in Miami on Tuesday to recruit residents to vote and volunteer to reelect her husband, President Barack Obama.
But the spot for the political event – Barbara Goleman Senior High in Miami Lakes – has some Republican members of the School Board seeing red.

Miami-Dade School Board member Renier Diaz de la Portilla has called for the event to be cancelled and board member Carlos Curbelo has asked the board attorney to reconsider his opinion that the event meets legal muster.

While School Board seats are nonpartisan, Diaz de la Portilla is running for state House as a Republican and Curbelo has worked as a Republican strategist.

“Allowing the first lady of the United States to use one of our schools explicitly to benefit the president’s reelection campaign is inappropriate and sends the wrong message to our students, employees, and to taxpayers – even if the president’s campaign is willing to pay for all costs resulting from the event,” Curbelo wrote in the letter to School Board attorney Walter Harvey.

Curbelo told reporters on Monday: “There’s a difference between official visits to schools by elected leaders and events that are for the sole purpose of advancing the interests of a political campaign.”

Curbelo added that his request was not an “anti-Obama position” and that he welcomes official visits from the president and first lady, but wants to keep politics out of schools to the extent possible.

Diaz de la Portilla said in a statement:

“The use of public schools whose only focus should be to educate our children for political gain is downright wrong. Don’t these liberals have boundaries? Our schools are places for learning, not places for politicking.”

While Michelle Obama holds the campaign event at a Miami-Dade school in Florida on Tuesday, GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney will attend a town hall the same day at a high school in another swing state, Colorado.

Under School Board policy, all groups, including political, religious and nonprofits, can apply to lease facilities from the Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Harvey said.

The district doesn’t spend any money on the event for the outside group and employees cannot attend the event if they are on the clock. Students are on summer break.

“They’re essentially renting the facility,” Harvey said. His opinion was essentially if someone applies to use district facilities, the district can’t deny and discriminate against the request just because it comes from a political campaign. All renters must meet certain criteria, like providing a certificate of insurance and prepaying the leasing fee.

The tab for Obama’s event Tuesday at Barbara Goleman Senior High: $2,351, according to the district.

The White House’s advisory said the first lady will meet with grass-roots supporters to encourage them to “register to vote and volunteer for the campaign, and thank volunteers for their hard work to help re-elect President Obama in November.” A similar event is planned on Tuesday afternoon in Orlando.

Another Miami-Dade School Board member, Dr. Wilbert “Tee” Holloway, said he welcomed Obama’s visit and said it gave students and residents an opportunity to be active citizens.

“I could not be more proud that first lady Michelle Obama has chosen to speak at Barbara Goleman Senior High School, and believe that our schools should encourage students to debate ideas and become engaged in our democratic process,” he said.