Barrington school play canceled over KKK costumes

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A Barrington Middle School play was canceled before it hit the stage.

A Barrington Middle School play was canceled before it hit the stage.

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.”

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14 Comments

  1. prolifemomri said:

    I wasn’t sure there was a reason to cancel the play until I read your comment. Now I think the parents who objected to their children wearing the KKK costume showed excellent judgment. The director and writers may know their intention, but they can’t control the reactions of the audience or the audience interpretation.
    Good call, parents!

    • jaqdadi said:

      I agree with you 100%. While reading this story, I was wondering if this “play” was constructive and had some kind of anti racist message. It is clear, by that one comment, that this “idea”, was a poor decision to begin with and the teacher should have found a different, more thoughtful way to teach this lesson.

      Imagine the comments, if they actually performed this play, that would follow the inevitable pics, that would be posted in the news and social media. My child goes to Bristol schools. This “muscular” approach to history, by allowing students to dress up as KKK members, seems a little suspicious to me. If my child were going to this school, I would be concerned about what else is being taught and the manner it is being conveyed to the kids.

      Eastbayri.com, please don’t remove that comment. It shows why this was a bad idea to start with.

      • jaqdadi said:

        Oh, BTW, great job Janice. I haven’t talked to you guy’s in a couple years. It’s good to see you still working hard to make sure things get done right. Your time and contributions are not appreciated as much as they should be. Thanks.

  2. Jack Baillargeron said:

    I found this very disgusting to say the least. Well doing a play about a historical event and all its horror may be educational. I do not think for this age children it is important. High school would be better served to tackle this with a play about say; “Mississippi Burning” The FBI case investigation of the 3 civil rights workers slain.

    I also think that this kind of history teaching of only the worst of American history is out of hand. All Americans were not members of the KKK, but you would never know that from the rhetoric today. I have never seen so much race baiting and hate to divide races as I have seen in the last 6 years. Blanket statements by politicians, that if made in the 60’s or 70’s would have them thrown from office. But today it is a political tool.

    Not saying there are not race problems, but they are the fault of select group of people and a very small minority. It is also racism against Blacks, whites, Asian etc. I would be interested in exactly what this play was though and what it is based on to make a more informed opinion. In any case Good job Janice.

  3. Katherine Preite said:

    As a former aqua cluster student I find this pretty ridiculous. The “muscular style teaching” that the Bristol parent finds suspicious just means that everything is hands on. We performed area plays with props and costumes made by us as accurately as possibly and had to make art projects about the eras. Still sound suspicious?…. Didn’t think so. As for the subject of the play, its been done for years, and does have a good lesson at the end. Leave it to one bad egg, as usual, to blow things out of proportion.

    Tell me, do some of you post the same crap about “yeah just take it out of the curriculum!” On every uncomfortable subject?

    When I was in third grade it was tradition in primrose to read the first harry potter book in class until one parent cried out saying that the school was “trying to teach our children about witchcraft”… Pretty dumb right? So is this.

    Dressing kids up for a part in an educational play doesn’t turn them into a bigot, and if that’s the point of concern for you, you may need to reassess your values.

  4. Joyce said:

    I would have liked to see where the teacher was going with this play. It sounds to be a very educational lesson. It’s not often a school is fortunate enough to get a bold teacher who is not afraid to look at the bad as well as the good that is American History. Too bad, it seemed like a valuable missed opportunity.

    • comn sense said:

      Joyce, every extremist movement has it’s eye on the children (“It’s for the children”).

      The Liberal Progressive movement wants to indoctrinate children into the belief that EVERYTHING about our history is something to be ashamed of, shaping their little minds into the idea that wealth redistribution is their personal atonement.

      Where this teacher was going was down a path that does nothing to instill confidence and a positive outlook into an 11 year old child.

      This teacher needs some therapy. Thank goodness we have parents who are willing to challenge such absurdity.

  5. ekm2x said:

    It’s hard to know the correct path here without knowing what the storyline of the play was to be. I do, however, tend to agree with Ms. Black that creating legitimacy for the KKK is not to be encouraged. I love the idea of kids learning by doing but they likely could learn about our racist history without donning a white coned hat and sheet and carrying sticks and “torch flashlights”!!

  6. Erika Sevetson said:

    It’s not a question about “giving legitimacy” to the KKK. They exist, and existed. There’s no arguing with that. I highly doubt that this play was meant to lend any sympathy to the Klan.

    There’s a certain kind of learning that happens with “doing,” which doesn’t happen with a book discussion, for example. Being a villain in a play can be just as eye-opening as being a hero or victim. I don’t question the right of that parent to object to the play or its lessons–but it seems like the school acted rashly in cancelling it.

    And for the writer who thinks that this is an inappropriate lesson for 7th-graders: students this age are capable of handling much more than you give them credit for. Most of them have been reading about the Holocaust, American racism, and other difficult topics for years by this age.

    • Pete Bilderback said:

      Those are good points Erika. I have no doubt that the teacher had good intentions and I cannot imagine the play’s message was in any way supportive of the Klan. And it is true learning through active participation is valuable.

      But this is a manifestly stupid idea. It shows a complete blindness to the sensitivities and feelings of people in the community. If the Klan were merely a relic of some distant past, perhaps no one would be upset about this. But they’re not. They’re active today and people are still being victimized by their bigotry. Those white hoods and sheets are still very much capable of striking terror into the hearts of many of us.

      It is important for children to learn about some of the more uncomfortable subjects in history, but it is also important to remember that both children and their parents have feelings as well. The educational value of an exercise like this seems pretty dubious in relation to the potential harm it could cause.

      Ms. Black was absolutely right to raise objections, and I congratulate her for doing so in such a level-headed and thoughtful way. The school made the right call to cancel the play, and I hope they will think more deeply about the emotional impact of such “muscular” learning exercises in the future.

  7. S.A.M. said:

    I was really offended last night to see respectable Barrington youths dressed as zombies, vampires, and pirates. Don’t people know that zombies and vampires eat people, and that pirates hold ships at gunpoint? This really legitimizes zombies, vampires, and pirates in a way that is just unacceptable. What kind of town is this that lets our kids dress up in bad-guy costumes? Don’t people know that dressing up in bad-guy costumes, regardless of whether its for an educational play, is offensive? I bet that those kids dressed as pirates might actually become pirates one day. They haven’t learned a thing.

  8. Dd said:

    I dont know how to feel about this! I do think the teacher is doing great having hands on activities where kids are engaged rather than sitting and zoning out to a monotonous voice up in front!! (as I did in school). Nobody saw the play so we cannot judge!! However, I do see why folks may be concerned with middle school students dressing as KKK… However, I am sure the students have heard of the KKK and they are playing a part. S.A.M. has a point with people dressing in costumes it does not mean they will become what their costume is!!

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