In the following letter dated January 21, 2010, Havre de Grace High School Principal Patricia Walling invites parents to see a video of the controversial production known as Drama Therapy and outlines a four-point action plan being implemented for future productions.
Drama Therapy is a changing series of short plays which have been presented by students at Havre de Grace High since 2007. The plays often deal with serious topics including incest, abortion, teen suicide, recovered memory and substance abuse.
Curiously, an envelope containing Principal Walling’s letter to the parents and guardians of Havre de Grace High School students shows neither a return address nor any other indication that the letter was sent from the school. The screening of Drama Therapy, planned for Wednesday, January 27, at 7 p.m. in the school auditorium, was not noted on the calendar posted on the school’s web site as of Sunday, January 24.
The January 27 screening will be the second opportunity for parents to see a video of the stage production, originally performed for all students at the school in early December, 2009. The video is being shown in response to requests from parents to review the content of the program.
The two-page letter from Principal Walling begins by tracing the evolution of Drama Therapy. The account may explain why a four- year-old program suddenly raised concerns this year from parents, teachers and later, from administrators:
“Concurrently, as interest grew, students increasingly felt comfortable pursuing topics of a more sensitive and controversial nature.”
Although administrators have acknowledged that they failed to preview the content of this year’s production, the letter goes on to say that counselors and administrators were “present” during the productions to help students who “might find the content difficult to process or personally challenging.”
But the future of Drama Therapy as therapy is now uncertain:
“A further clarification as to the ‘therapeutic value’ implied in the title must be defined, authenticated, and captured in written form.”
In any case, “Drama Therapy” will undergo a name-change as part of a four-point action plan detailed in the letter and developed by Executive Director of Secondary Education David Volrath.
The action plan includes the current screening of the video for parents. For future productions, the plan includes advance notification and an opt-out provision for parents; a review of the content by school and health professionals; pre-viewing and post-viewing instruction for students; increased access to counseling and a review of the decision to hold the program during the school day. To facilitate the actions outlined in the plan, a committee will be formed, comprised of the “greater Havre de Grace educational community”. The committee’s work is to be in place by June, 2010.
“Action 4” will be to establish procedural protocols, such as the opt-out provision, “…to comply with Board of Education curricular expectations, and to respect individual and parental rights and preferences”. Sounds like the current procedures, or lack thereof, violated all of the above.
The result was turmoil within the Havre de Grace community. Parents who said their rights were violated were pitted against parents who saw benefits to the program and students on both sides got caught up in the mix. The whole affair played out in public meetings and on the internet, including here on The Dagger.
But you’ll find no apologies in the letter for the failures on all levels within Harford County Public Schools. Only this in closing, from Principal Walling: “I sincerely regret the division this activity has created within the Havre de Grace community.”
Here’s the full letter from Principal Walling: