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Votes

Drama Policy Takes Center Stage

A School Board committee will vote on a theater policy.

The debate over whether to censor sexual content from future theatrical productions is expected to come to a head Wednesday night, May 25, as the Legislative and Policy Committee votes on a new drama policy.

Four individuals opened debate on the issue during the School Board meeting Tuesday night.

Kathy Hawes of Mainstream Loudoun spoke on behalf of First Amendment rights while Carol Walters of the Community Levee Association of Loudoun County represented the importance of virtues. Both provided recommendations.

Hawes presented what she described as a "compromise" policy, with three recommendations. They were 1) To hold principals accountable and provide a protocol for the principals to work with the drama sponsors. 2) To make it the students' responsibility to include material that is not obscene, slanderous or libelous. 3) To ensure academic freedom and not restrict the creativity of the students.

She told the board, reading from a written statement, that the compromise would ensure that students can speak out about sensitive topics in school. "And it does not negatively impact the school system or the business community, unlike proposals that focus on censorship of content."

Walters suggested strengthening Superintendent of Schools Edgar Hatrick's proposal, which would leave the decision-making about the plays with the principals. She recommended that the foundation of the new policy should go hand in hand with the Family Life Education Standards of Learning. This would set a standard in which the student would realize the importance of setting standards for controlling sexual behavior, avoid tempting situations and postpone sexual relations until marriage.

ROBERT DUPREE JR. (Dulles) said there is room for a reasonable approach. "Hopefully plays in the future won't be as much of a source of consternation as they have in the past three months," he said.

Bob Ohneiser (Broad Run) said the policy must provide direction for the employees as to what is permissible. "We want to make sure what we have meets legal muster," he added.

Joseph Guzman (Sugarland) said he wants the policy to reflect a G-rated environment. "We really have a reason to do everything we can to provide a good environment for all of our kids."

On a related topic, Chairman John Andrews (Potomac) said it "amazes" him that a lot of people approach him and say they wish to ban all classics, such as "Romeo and Juliet" that have anything to do with sexual innuendo.

The School Board's discussion also focused on Hatrick's decision to add 20 minutes to the elementary school day, starting in the fall. Ohneiser said parents in his district support the decision, but he has asked Hatrick to tell teachers to subtract 20 minutes of homework in exchange.

Guzman agreed. He said he was concerned about his son's large amount of homework. "It’s a lot on a young child. It’s a lot of pressure. I just don’t remember having that kind of pressure."

Tom Reed (At Large) said parents in his district support the addition. He said he objects to adding any more curriculum without considering the impact on school time.

IN OTHER BUSINESS:

* The board recognized 2,500 years of combined experience among Loudoun County Public Schools employees. They were honored for their long years of dedication.

* Dupree said the board takes no side on land-use issues, but it does underscore the need for school sites and educational funds through proffers. "We're having tremendous difficulty with both aspects," he said.

* J. Warren Geurin (Sterling) reported that the number of minority students taking Advanced Placement courses has risen. "In almost every category, AP participation is up, and it is good news."

* Ohneiser recommended establishing a computer software and Internet academy at Broad Run High School, using nine trailers that are scheduled for removal.

* Andrews thanked Geurin's Curriculum and Instruction Committee for undertaking a study on elementary-school services. He suggested that members take a look at teachers' planning time. "It is time to look at how we deliver services, since we already have done it with middle and high school."

* The board returned $10.4 million in unspent capital project funds to the county. Originally, the board considered returning $10.6 million, but they supported Ohneiser's proposal to hold onto a portion of it.