The debate over establishing a policy to govern school plays escalated Tuesday night, with three dozen people addressing the School Board.
Members of the Board were slated to vote on a policy, but it was questionable whether they would agree on its content before a midnight adjournment.
Members offered amendments to strengthen the policy approved last month by the Legislative and Policy Committee. Discussion of the First Amendment took nearly an hour, only to be voted down.
EARLIER IN the evening, School Board Chairman John Andrews said he supported the committee-approved policy. He said he withheld his opinion until Tuesday, because he didn't want to sway anyone else's stance on the issue. He said he would like to see a guideline requiring a description of the plays on the schools' Web sites prior to their production.
He also said he would object to making any changes to the policy that would bar the performance of classic plays.
J. Warren Geurin said he did not believe his proposals to strengthen the policy constituted censorship. He said schools do not have the right to have obscene, lewd, indecent or sexual acts in theater presentations.
“I don’t believe our high-school stages or our middle-school stages are the same thing as Regal Cinema or the local satellite station,” he said.
He said his amendments would not exclude plays such as Shakespeare’s works or “West Side Story.”
Bob Ohneiser (Broad Run) said he would support a change in the committee policy that would prohibit profanity in plays.
Sarah Smith (Catoctin) said she did not believe homosexuality or heterosexuality belong in the school productions. “It is better not to have sexual themes,” she said.
Joe Guzman (Sugarland) reaffirmed the stance he has taken on the issue in the past. “I favor G-rated schools,” he said.
He said he supports theatre, but it needs to be governed by a policy.
THE MAJORITY of people who presented their views to the School Board were parents. Only some of them provided details about which communities they lived in.
Renae Smith of Sterling asked the School Board to enact a stricter drama policy that would prohibit sexual content. “This controversy should be a lesson that this is a clean, decent community,” she said.
Dawn Meyer of Potomac Falls said she supported the committee's policy because it protects First Amendment rights while setting some limitations.
Susie Chapman, wearing a “Remember the Children” pin, said the policy needed to be tougher. “Obscenity doesn’t cover enough,” she said.
She also complained her children, under the proposed policy, would be vulnerable to who the principal or drama teacher is in terms of what content would be allowed.
Amanda Ellis, a rising Potomac Falls High School senior and president of the International Thespian Society, said drama students disagree with the need for a policy, but they will comply with it. She asked the School Board to refrain from making it stronger. She expressed concern a tougher policy would ban plays such as “South Pacific,” and “Hello Dolly.”
“I want material that will inspire me and allow me to grow as an actor,” she said.
Nelly Davidson, an Ashburn parent, wanted the policy strengthened. She wanted to know whether it was too much to ask the schools to provide a “safe haven” for children.
David Weintraub, a parent and president of Equality Loudoun, described the policy as “reasonable.” He said the policy does what it should do by banning obscenity and holding students accountable.
He asked the School Board not to give into requests for a stricter policy. “Please don’t try to satisfy these impossible demands,” he said. “Stick with this sensible policy.”
Rose Dall, a parent, said the language needs to be stronger. “The whole issue is a parental-rights issue. It is not a gay-rights issue. It is not a censorship issue.”
Cliff Cummings, a Leesburg parent, said it is not censorship to ban things that are not appropriate. The public schools already filter what should be taught to students. “We don’t teach Infidelity 101,” he said.
Robert Patterson, a Leesburg parent, called for a tougher policy that would expose students to the very best of drama. Sexual orientation should remain a private issue, he said.
Michelle Detweiler, an Ashburn Farms parent involved with community theater, supported the policy. She expressed concern that some of the plays she has seen in Loudoun schools contain themes that belong on the college and university level. She recommended establishing a parent advisory board to provide feedback on plays.
Kevin Cox, a parent, said the policy is a “fair and reasonable compromise,” and he objected to making it stronger. “What really concerns me here is I really fear a type of censorship. We’re planting the seeds of censorship,” he said.
Terri Glass, a Broadlands parent, said she represented the silent majority who does not understand what “this hoopla is all about.”
“This thing doesn’t seem to want to go away,” she said. “I don’t want other parents decide what is morally correct for my children.”
IN OTHER business:
* The new Farmwell Station Middle School principal will be Sherryl D. Loya, who replaces Ginger Minshew. Minshew has been hired as the new principal of Park View High School in Sterling. Loya is currently a middle-school principal in Texas. Jennifer Abel has been hired as a new assistant principal at Potowmack Elementary School. She is currently a dean at River Bend Middle School in Sterling. Thomas Pollock will be a new assistant principal at Eagle Ridge Middle School in Broadlands. He is an assistant principal at Sterling Middle School. Melissa Schraml will be a new assistant principal at Freedom High School in South Riding. She is an assistant principal at Dominion High School.
* The Loudoun Education Foundation provided $100,000 in grants to county schools. The foundation seeks private funding and resources to strengthen the quality of the school system beyond what public funds can accomplish. It provides opportunities to enhance existing programs and to create new educational opportunities for students.
* The board recognized Ei Thu Lwin, a Potomac Falls High School senior and winner of the Gates Millennium Scholarship. She plans to become a pharmacist. Lwin came to the United States from Burma as a 10-year-old fifth-grader. Her grade point average is well above 4.0. The $16,403 scholarship is provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
* Hatrick and five other superintendents met with the new U.S. Department of Education secretary to discuss 13 changes proposed by the Virginia Board of Education to strengthen the law.