In public comments at a school board meeting Monday, several Havre de Grace parents spoke about Drama Therapy. Support for the students was nearly a universal theme, most parents called for better oversight and no one said the program should be abolished, but opinions varied widely on just about everything else.
Parent Tom Barnes said he had been abused as a child and that a program like Drama Therapy would have made an impact on his life, “I would not have attempted suicide in my later teens. I would have found help.” Parent Glenn Gorleski said the program should be improved and expanded “This program gives a voice to many to be heard. These are real issues and we need to listen.” Student Justine Cerruto, who performed in one of the plays, said that the treatment of students with disabilities improved at Havre de Grace HS as a result of Drama Therapy.
Many speakers, even those who supported Drama Therapy in its current form, said parental notification and an opt-out provision would have been appropriate. But several objected to the content and questioned whether Drama Therapy was necessarily good therapy.
Parent Christina Kane said that topics such as incest and pornography should have prompted a disclaimer for parents. She also said that students who may have been troubled by Drama Therapy couldn’t have gotten counseling from the school right away, since the general assembly took place on a Friday afternoon and students were sent home immediately afterward. Parent Kimie Rankin noted that drama therapy is a clinically licensed field and she suggested that the plays be further developed to show more productive outcomes. She also urged the school system to uphold standards regarding obscenities and sexuality.
Drama teacher Mark Cummins, a founder of Drama Therapy, defended the program saying “We have definitely helped out children.” but he said he agreed with the action plan laid out by his boss, Executive Director of Secondary Education Dave Volrath.
Parent Rachel Tate said she and her family had been the targets of hate speech after speaking out and she laid the blame squarely on the leadership of HCPS for conflict within the community. Pointing to the school officials, Tate said “…you people didn’t do your jobs.”
Speaking later in the meeting, School Board Member Don Osman, representing Havre de Grace, said that he had problems with the use of the term ‘therapy’. He said students need to talk about issues, but he decried the lack of pre- and post-viewing activities for Drama Therapy. Regarding the content, he said “I’m probably the most liberal person in that town, but I do draw the line. This is tearing Havre de Grace apart for something that could have been avoided. Shame on all of us for not objecting. We can’t use those words, discuss those topics in the classroom” and he said any teacher who did, would have been “hauled in”.
In addition to the lack of administrative oversight, Drama Therapy was not presented as curriculum to the General Curriculum Committee or to the school board for their approval. Whether it should have been and whether it will be in the future, remains to be seen.
For now, Osman asked the community to come together and remember the “big t-word, ‘tolerance’.”