Emma E. Booker Elementary School
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Coordinates: Emma E. Booker Elementary School is an elementary school in Sarasota, Florida which opened in the fall of 1989. It is named for Emma E. Booker, an African-American educator who founded the first black school in Sarasota County, Florida.
2001 visit from President Bush
The school received international attention following a visit by United States President George W. Bush on the morning of September 11, 2001. It was at the school that Bush learned of the second plane crashing into the World Trade Center, and where he made his first public comments about the September 11 attacks.
Report of attacks
The first plane crash at the World Trade Center happened about ten minutes before the president arrived at the school. A press pool photographer heard a radio message that White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer would be needed to answer questions about a "crash" and that there was a call on hold from Condoleezza Rice. Bush entered the second-grade classroom of Sandra Kay Daniels where he introduced the class to Education Secretary Rod Paige and shook hands with Mrs. Daniels. He and the teacher then sat down facing the seated students to read the children's story, "The Pet Goat."
At about 9:05 AM White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card whispered into Bush's ear, "A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack." Bush appeared tense but remained seated for roughly seven minutes and continued to listen while the children read in unison through the story, sometimes repeating lines to meet Mrs. Daniels's standards. The reading concluded with the phrase "more to come" and Bush asked the class, "What does that mean - 'more to come'?" After a student replied, he praised the students' reading skills and encouraged them to continue practicing, before he excused himself and left the room.
According to Bill Sammon in Fighting Back: The War on Terrorism from Inside the White House, Ari Fleischer was in the back of the classroom holding a pad on which he had written, "Don't say anything yet." Sammon contends that, although Bush was not wearing his glasses, he was able to read this message, and it went unnoticed by the media. Sammon further stated:
"Bush wondered whether he should excuse himself and retreat to the holding room, where he might be able to find out what the hell was going on. But what kind of message would that send—the president abruptly getting up and walking out on a bunch of inner-city second-graders at their moment in the national limelight?"
Bush was scheduled for a short press conference in the school library after spending about 20 minutes total in the classroom. This was delayed by several minutes. When Bush appeared, he announced, "This is a difficult moment for America," and instead of the planned topic, addressed the country for several minutes about the plane crashes and the government's immediate response. He then left the school for Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport.
Bush's critics, notably Michael Moore in his film Fahrenheit 9/11, have argued that the fact that Bush continued reading the book after being notified that the attack was ongoing shows that he was indecisive. A 9/11 Commission Staff Report entitled Improvising a Homeland Defense said: "The President felt he should project strength and calm until he could better understand what was happening."
Osama bin Laden made reference to the story in a videotaped speech released just prior to the 2004 U.S. presidential election, stating that Bush's reading of the book had given the hijackers more than enough time to carry out the attacks. His full quote was:
"But because it seemed to him that occupying himself by talking to the little girl about the goat and its butting was more important than occupying himself with the planes and their butting of the skyscrapers, we were given three times the period required to execute the operations - all praise is due to Allah."
In the years following the incident, faculty and students of the school have come to the defense of Bush's actions. Principal Gwendolyn Tose-Rigell, who died in 2007, stated, "I don't think anyone could have handled it better. What would it have served if [Bush] had jumped out of his chair and ran out of the room?"
Asked about the incident for Time shortly after bin Laden's death, the now teenage students in the classroom, Lazaro Dubrocq and Mariah Williams, credited Bush with keeping the classroom calm by finishing the story. "I don't remember the story we were reading — was it about pigs?" says Williams, 16. "But I'll always remember watching his face turn red. He got really serious all of a sudden. But I was clueless. I was just seven. I'm just glad he didn't get up and leave because then I would have been more scared and confused." Chantal Guerrero, 16, agreed: even today she's grateful that Bush regained his composure and stayed with the students until "The Pet Goat" was finished. "I think the President was trying to keep us from finding out," said Guerrero, "so we all wouldn't freak out."
In popular culture
- Bush's 2001 visit to the school was parodied on the Robot Chicken episode, "Yancy the Yo-Yo Boy".
- Sammon, Bill (2002). Fighting Back. Regnery Publishing. p. 85. ISBN 978-0-89526-149-6.
- Adair, Bill; Hegarty, Stephen (2002-09-08). "The drama in Sarasota". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved 2007-06-15.
- Radosh, Daniel (July 26, 2004). "The Pet Goat Approach". The New Yorker.
- "Improvising a Homeland Defense" (PDF)., page 22
- Osama bin Laden (November 1, 2004). "Full Transcript of Bin Ladin's Speech". Aljazeera.net (Al Jazeera). Retrieved 2006-03-20.
- The Interrupted Reading: The Kids with George W. Bush on 9/11
- Kids in Class With Bush on 9/11 Say He Was Right to Keep Reading - Michael Moore Was Wrong