There's a push in modern day education to "compartmentalize" (my term) different disciplines. If a skill or piece of knowledge isn't covered by the standards for the course, then it shouldn't be graded. That's why we have a push to stop penalizing late work - because whether an essay is handed in on time or not is a measure not of the student's understanding of, say, character development in Macbeth, but rather of their soft skills of work completion, sticking to a schedule, etc.
I have very mixed feelings about this trend.
At any rate, with this in mind, the teenagers have a point...sort of. If the goal of assignment is for the student to demonstrate understanding of a concept or set of material, then alternate assessments should be available. However, many disciplines (particularly including my own - English Language Arts) include a communications requirement. In these cases, the teacher often has no choice BUT to assign presentations, speeches, etc.
Additionally, the decision to give students more autonomy like this could result in some nasty unintended consequences. I currently have about 130 students (small class sizes this semester). If I'm supposed to allow every student the opportunity to complete an alternate assignment rather than the assignment I spent hours designing and additional time creating a rubric for, suddenly I'm dealing with a work multiplication factor that's simply unmanageable. Decrease class sizes and structure in more teacher planning and grading time and we could talk.
Frankly, with all due respect to Laura and Danni, sometimes students just have to suck it up. Yes, there are instances where a student has such crippling anxiety that a speech would be detrimental; those cases should be handled delicately and on an as needed basis. In the meantime, everyone else needs to buck up a bit.
Not to pile on here, but as a theatre director and forensics (speech) coach, I have witnessed firsthand the confidence and self-advocacy that develops within students who push past that fear into public speaking. Last year I had a freshman who came to our first forensics meeting so shy that nobody could hear her say her name when she introduced herself, but by the end of the season she was triple entering at every tournament and came only a point or two away from qualifying for the national tournament we attend. If she hadn't been pushed, she never would've grown.