An old saying professes that “Hindsight is 20/20.”
With that adage in mind, we believe that Cardinal School Board members can look back and clearly see how they should have handled a situation differently after receiving a complaint about an upcoming high school musical performance.
After canceling the Cardinal High School spring musical performance of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” two weeks ago, the school board reversed itself at its Feb. 8 board meeting.
The musical had been canceled in a closed board session on Jan. 25 with Superintendent Jack Cunningham and director Vanessa Allen.
The decision led to a campaign by the students to have their weeks of work not be in vain by fighting to have the production restored, a battle that eventually included the playwright herself, Rachel Scheinkin; original cast member and “Modern Family” actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson; and a statement from the Dramatists Guild of America.
The Cardinal High School lunch room was packed for the regularly scheduled Feb. 8 meeting with multiple Cleveland media outlets, residents and allies of the students who overwhelmingly made up the wall-to-wall crowd.
The production was canceled due to what the board described in a statement as “vulgarity” and because it was not “family friendly.” But at this meeting the board announced the reversal in a statement read before public commentary on the issue could begin.
The school board defended their duty to “uphold standards set by board policy for the good of all students” and claimed they “had no knowledge” of what they called the “controversial” spring music until they received a Jan. 11 complaint — a complaint that remains anonymous.
“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” was the fourth-most produced high school musical in the United States as recently as the 2020-21 school year.
The intervention of playwright Scheinkin and publisher Music Theatre International allowed 23 separate revisions to be made for the school board to deem the script acceptable enough to reverse its decision.
The board did not reveal what revisions were made, but production team member Brad Allen characterized the changes as mostly language-related, and no characters such as two gay dads or even a whimsical cameo by Jesus are alleged to be part of the changes.
“We are extremely happy that the board could finally come to a compromise and asked the right questions,” Allen told The News-Herald. “I think the whole thing could have been avoided if they had had an honest conversation with the production team so they could understand exactly how changes need to be made to a script.
“We’re excited to get started again.”
The overwhelming majority of public comments took the board to task for their process, despite their gratitude for the final decision.
More than one speaker claimed the board owed the students an apology, and at least one claimed the community had been “humiliated” by the controversy.
Joyce Peters, a 75-year-old trustee in Parkman Township, which is part of the Cardinal School District, was one of the first speakers and took the board to task for the Jan. 25 cancellation meeting that she believes may have been in violation of Ohio’s Sunshine Law which requires transparency in elected board meetings.
“I just want them to do better,” said Peters, who does not intend to file such a complaint. “This is my district. I love it, and I want it to be better.”
The News-Herald believes that the Cardinal School Board should strive to meet Peters’ goal: To do better — especially if a similar controversy arises in the future.
Allen also brought a valid point: The controversy could have been avoided if the School Board initially talked to the production team, and clarified how the script needed to be revised. Taking this conservative approach might have prevented making the unpopular move to cancel the show.
In conclusion, we do commend the Cardinal School Board for being willing to reconsider its decision. If the board faces any equally volatile issues in the future, we also hope it chooses to discuss those matters in an open session.
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