In the following letter to Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick, a former educator requests an independent investigation into Drama Therapy, the controversial drama production shown to students at Havre de Grace High School at a school-wide assembly held in early December, 2009. The letter to Dr. Grasmick generated a response of sorts. More on that in a minute. First, here’s the letter from Churchville resident, Barbara Falukner-Davis.
Ms. Faulkner-Davis told The Dagger that she first heard about Drama Therapy from an upset friend who is a parent in the Havre de Grace district. Faulkner-Davis is not a parent herself; she says she got involved as a former educator, a taxpayer and a concerned citizen. She says she isn’t trying to get anyone fired, but Faulkner-Davis thinks Drama Therapy should not be shown during the school day and that program’s therapeutic efforts were inappropriate. After viewing a DVD of the production and attending a recent school board meeting, Faulkner-Davis said she didn’t like the attitude of school officials. So she decided to go over their heads, sending the certified letter to the state superintendent on January 30, 2010. A copy was provided to The Dagger upon request.
The Response, Of Sorts
Faulkner-Davis told The Dagger she had been contacted by a few of the elected officials who were copied on her letter, but hadn’t heard back from members of the school board or from Dr. Grasmick.
Faulkner-Davis’s letter was received at the Maryland State Department of Education on February 3, 2010 and was handed off to William Cappe, who is listed in the department directory as a school outreach specialist in the Office of Academic Policy. Cappe told The Dagger in a phone interview on February 22 that he was not planning a response to Faulkner-Davis, but that he had called Harford County Public Schools about her letter.
Cappe said that David Volrath, Harford County Public Schools’ executive director of secondary education, told him that he had spoken to Faulkner-Davis about the letter, which Faulkner-Davis said was not true. Cappe also said that Drama Therapy was a local issue and, “Harford County is dealing with it.” Asked whether the he was done with the matter, Cappe said “We’re done with it, in effect.”
Up until three months ago, Harford County Public Schools celebrated Drama Therapy and promoted it to the public as part drama, part therapy. It is unclear what training or qualifications the teachers and guidance counselors who developed the program had prior to implementing the program four years ago at Havre de Grace High School.
Drama Therapy was not reviewed by Harford County Public Schools’ senior staff and the content, most of which changes from year to year, was never approved by the General Curriculum Committee or by the school board.
Some of the content appears to have contradicted approved curriculum discouraging underage sexual activity and substance abuse.
Drama Therapy was not previewed by Havre de Grace High School Principal, Patricia Walling. After a public performance on the evening of December 3, Drama Therapy was presented to Havre de Grace High School students at a school-wide assembly on Friday, December 4, 2009.
The founders of Drama Therapy anticipated that some students might need counseling after seeing the production. Drama teacher Mark Cummins urged the 775-member student body, which includes students with special needs, to seek help from the school’s two guidance counselors if necessary. However, immediately following the Friday afternoon performance, the school day ended and students were told to get on buses headed home for the weekend.
Parents were not notified in advance about the content of Drama Therapy; parents were not notified that Drama Therapy would be shown to students during the school day; and parents were not advised after the fact that students had seen a performance that school officials anticipated would be troubling to some students.
It wasn’t until parents started asking questions, that HCPS stopped heralding the program and came up with a radically different “action plan” for Drama Therapy. The action plan does not prescribe a particular outcome. Rather, it provides a framework for decisions to be made a committee being formed to address the future of the program. Parents have charged that the Drama Therapy violated federal laws regarding mental health interventions and that the action plan does not preclude further violations.
Yet the Maryland State Department of Education plans no further oversight, assuming instead that the people in charge of Drama Therapy will handle it properly.
Didn’t assumptions like that cause the trouble with Drama Therapy in the first place?