Feathers ruffles, but 'Mockingbird' OK

By: 
Nov. 18, 2010

An appeal committee and the School board agree ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is appropriate.

An appeal committee concluded Monday, Nov. 15, that despite the references to rape and racist language, the play version of Harper Lee’s prize-winning novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” is appropriate for Flagler County high school students.

As it stands now, however, the play, which was supposed to be performed by Flagler Palm Coast High School, is still canceled. It was not in the committee’s purview to authorize the play to actually be performed, but only to rule whether it was appropriate.

The School Board on Tuesday, Nov. 16, unanimously approved the findings and indicated the play will be allowed to go on, though not in the near future. Superintendent Janet Valentine said the school needed time to reschedule and prepare.

School Board member Colleen Conklin said she is confident the play will eventually take place.

“What one might find extremely controversial, one might find art,” Conklin said. “I want to get this settled down and let the quality of the literature be examined.”

The committee suggested on Monday that if the play is put on after all, a statement should be read to inform audience members of the historical context of the play. It also suggested the School Board consider a new policy to govern the dramatic productions of controversial material in the future in the schools.

Committee member Marc Ray quoted from the play a portion that he found analogous to the current debate on the cancellation of the play.

At the end of Act I, the judge quiets a rowdy courtroom: “You may feel there’s something here to be learned. Or you may decide you do not wish to face this problem. It’s up to you to make the decision. I suggest you do it right now.”

Ray said, “I think we do a disservice to our student body not to recognize that they can think for themselves. It’s already been noted that the folks attending that play — they’re going to be aware of the incendiary nature of the commentary.”

The committee was formed at the request of Conklin. She indicated she made the appeal as a stalling technique.

“We needed to slow this down,” she told the committee on Monday. “I didn’t know of any other way to do that … Cooler heads needed to prevail.”

She said she was confident the cancellation was not about censorship of the play. But, she said, the media around the world — from USA Today to media in India — still reported on it as a censorship issue.

“How our district has been portrayed is devastating to me on a professional and personal level,” Conklin said. “It’s a defining moment for our district … We have no choice but to address it.”

Conklin also gave a vote of confidence to FPC Principal Jacob Oliva, who canceled the play at the recommendation of a previous committee formed at the high school.

Oliva reiterated on Monday that he never questioned whether the play was appropriate, but that he was concerned about student safety.

“With the different questions and concerns coming into the high school revolving around this performance, we did not feel that the proper foundation had been laid to ensure the success of this production,” Oliva read from a prepared statement to the committee. “We look forward to the opportunity when the community can join us to celebrate this literary work. With the proper time to prepare and take into consideration the powerful messages of this work, FPC embraces this great learning opportunity.

“We deeply regret if a negative shadow has been cast on the school or the school district. Every decision made throughout the process was made with what we feel is in the students’ best interest. We are committed to becoming a world-class high school and we are looking forward to moving on with this matter.

The community appeared in agreement that the play should go on, based on the public comments Tuesday, at the School Board meeting. One resident after another took the microphone and criticized the media, the School Board, the school and the teachers for their handling of the situation.

Finally, John Sbordone, director of the Flagler Playhouse, took the podium and offered to let the play be performed in April at the Flagler Playhouse, if scheduling at the Flagler Auditorium cannot be arranged.