The trouble with Normal

Tim Chesnutt, director of the Loudoun Youth Initiative, is telling the media that LYI needs “to be more creative about how we get the word out there” about the groundbreaking play Normal, due to the refusal of Loudoun County Public Schools to allow advertising to be posted on public school property or sent home with students. “We weren’t able to provide schools the information they needed,” he explains.

This is cleverly worded, but Chesnutt is being far too generous.

According to the Loudoun Connection

Loudoun County Public Schools asked the Creative Theatre Group to see a completed script or sit in a dress rehearsal before they made their decision whether or not to promote the play…”Simply put, we couldn’t promote work we hadn’t seen,” [LCPS spokesman Wayde] Byard said.

Earlier, Byard told the Leesburg Today

“Before we did this we would like to see what the show is about,” Byard said Friday. “We’d like to see a script, see a dress rehearsal.”

Notice how he makes it sound as if the school administration was given no opportunity to see a rehearsal. This is flatly untrue. School officials were invited to attend rehearsals numerous times in the weeks preceding the play. For unknown reasons, they declined. Not a single representative from the school administration could be made available for one of these rehearsals.

Furthermore, the first performance, at Potomac Falls High School on Friday, February 9th, was attended by Superintendent Hatrick and School Board members Tom Reed and Priscilla Godfrey. Having seen an actual performance of the play, what is the excuse for the school administration’s failure to immediately approve advertising in the schools for the remainder of the performances?

Instead, the reason for the denial changed.

Wayde Byard, spokesperson for Loudoun County Public Schools, said School Board policy does not allow outside groups to advertise in schools. “We feel that once you allow one group to use students to carry information home many more will want to do this,” Byard said. “We get literally hundreds of requests to take information home.”

Was one of these hundreds of requests from the anti-family planning group “Birthright,” by any chance? Because representatives of that group were sending home flyers with the captive audience of students at the Dominion High School performance by Keith Deltano. This outside group appears to have some prominent role in the promotion or funding of this highly biased, controversial use of public school instructional time. They must have fallen through the cracks.

We will return to this later. Let’s look at the time line leading up to this otherwise inexplicable behavior on the part of our public school officials. After all, the Loudoun Youth Initiative was chartered by local government specifically to address challenges identified by Loudoun’s youth, most of whom attend public school. The mission of LYI explicitly includes collaboration with LCPS.

Remember this article? It was published in the Washington Post on January 25th, and linked to on this blog the following day. It begins:

Tully Satre, 17, says he knows what it’s like to be bullied. He knows how it feels to be called names and ostracized. “I’m gay and I go to a Catholic school. You get the picture there,” said the senior at Notre Dame Academy in Middleburg.

It was immediately after the publication of this article that the decision was made by LCPS, and a statement released by the Public Relations Office that, because of the theatrical presentations policy adopted in response to the gay-themed play Offsides, the schools could not be used to advertise Normal. At this point, LYI and the directors of Normal were still trying to get someone from LCPS to attend a rehearsal.

It’s no mystery what’s going on here. Rather than see the play and be burdened with the truth that it in no way violates any policy, LCPS chose not to see it so they could then use the excuse that they “had not seen it.” That way, they avoid more unpleasantness with the torches-and-pitchforks crowd.

In fact, Normal has no gay themes or content. In fact, if it did, that would not violate any policy. But facts didn’t play a role in this decision, only perception did – and the ever present threat of bullying by certain adults. This is what we said at the adoption of the policy in 2005, and it stands today:

Patricia Phillips, the Virginia state director of the pro-censorship group Concerned Women for America, told the Washington Post that “the policy addressed her main concern, which was for ‘the normalization of homosexuality to be prevented.'”

Translated into plain English, this statement expresses an intent to abuse the policy in order to silence a lawful and legitimate viewpoint – that it’s normal and natural for some people to be gay, lesbian, bisexual and/or transgendered.

If this is in fact how the policy is being interpreted, if principals and teachers are suppressing controversial content to avoid the threat of the “heckler’s veto” from Mrs. Phillip’s group, then the implementation of the policy is unlawful.

And, I would add, extremely cowardly. It is deeply disappointing that our public schools have failed the kids – again. Most tellingly, in the Q&A after the Friday performance, an audience member asked whether the anti-bullying programs offered in school are helpful. Every hand on the stage shot up, and the answer was a resounding NO.

There are two more performances of Normal, so go see it. It’s outstanding.

February 17, 7:30 pm at Franklin Park in Purcellville Correction: at the Round Hill Center
February 18, 3:00 pm at Stonebridge High School

All performances are free.

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One Response to The trouble with Normal

  1. Pingback: Equality Loudoun » Another chance to see “Normal”