A Barrington Middle School play was canceled before the curtain ever rose.
According to school officials, students in the seventh grade Aqua Cluster were planning to perform a play called “A Place to Call Home” on Monday night at the school. But on Thursday afternoon, Aqua Cluster teacher Mary Roberts, who was directing the play, told the children involved in the performance that there would be no show.
The reason for the cancellation appears to be the play’s costumes.
Last week Ms. Roberts e-mailed parents regarding the show and a wax museum exhibit the students were preparing. The “friendly reminder” told parents that costumes and props were due on Wednesday, Oct. 23. The e-mail also referenced the Ku Klux Klan.
“KKK play members need a white sheet and a white pillow case to make their costume,” she wrote. “Props for both the KKK and towns people; each student needs to bring either a club (thick stick from outside) or a flashlight torch…”
Janice Black, a parent of an Aqua Cluster student who was performing in the wax museum exhibit and not in the play, was startled by what she read.
“I trust there will be a good lesson in this play, but there are some things that children need to learn about with acting it out,” she said. “As an adult, I find things relating to the KKK upsetting. I said I won’t be sitting through it.”
Ms. Black also e-mailed her fellow Aqua Cluster parents.
“The KKK is not some abstract thing from way back in olden, over-and-done-with history. It exists today. In the USA. Recently, the KKK won a court decision which said that they (the KKK) had been discriminated against. Imagine,” she wrote.
“The very thought of seeing children, in a play, dressed as members of the KKK makes me feel physically ill. I already get ‘the message’ that I think the play will communicate. I don’t want to engrave in my mind the visual of children in KKK costumes on a stage in a public school. And I don’t want my daughter to have that visual in her mind either.
“And, of course, my children already know how I feel about such things. Because some messages are too important to wait for some middle school play… There is nothing that can justify putting on a KKK costume.”
News of Ms. Black’s concerns regarding the play reached school officials late last week, and by the end of the day on Thursday, Oct. 24, Ms. Roberts had reportedly told the students involved in the play that the show would not go on.
School officials said the teachers at the middle school work hard to share important lessons with their students.
Ms. Roberts sent an e-mail to parents after the decision and shared her feelings about canceling the show.
“First of all, thank you for such an outpouring of genuine support. I am truly overwhelmed by your collective kindness and so thankful to work with such a wonderful group of parents,” she wrote. “I have shared your emails with administration as I think it is important to make your feelings transparent to all involved. I am not sure what to expect media-wise going forward, but I feel confident that I can face whatever may come with your continued support.
“Secondly, the cast members and I brainstormed today and came up with a plan to showcase their collective talents. I am not letting the cat out of the bag though; you will all have to come Monday evening to see what we came up with. I think you will be pleased and proud of your children as I am.
“Lastly, to all of you who implored me not to give up on my ‘muscular’ history teaching style in which students are involved in their learning, not to worry. I know kids learn best when involved and I will continue to share my teaching style with them as well as my genuine enthusiasm for U.S. history.”
Ms. Black said she was confident the play would have included a positive message in the end.
“They do a good job,” she said of Barrington teachers. “But when you say KKK, it gives them (the Klan) to much legitimacy, to put the kids in these costumes, it’s upsetting.”