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:
Princess Lea says
Take a moment to look at the envelope: No return address, No cancelled stamp (a stamp, yes but no cancellation), Generic “to the parents of” address label. Does this look like important information to you or does it look like a sly attempt to follow the “letter of the law” without fully abiding by the “intent of the law”? It looks ludicrous in light of the attention this matter has gotten. Sadly, they were able to accomplish their intended purpose by making it look like “junk mail”. Many people treated it as such. Call your friends, call your neighbors. Ask them to go to the Havre de Grace High School Auditorium tonight at 7pm to see the screening.
I have waited to voice my point so that I could reflect on my written notes and thoughts and not sound like a crazed parent.
I went to the 2nd screening even though I did not get the letter until the day of the screening.
I was at the first screening.
I have read and reread every post on The Dagger and Facebook.
I have talked to my children, other children, and teachers.
I paid special attention and took notes during the 2nd viewing. I listened for and to the disclaimers, speech, and actions of Mr. Cummins and listened intently to the audience.
After all this I am still disgusted by the callous disregard for the welfare of ALL HHS students by Mrs. Walling and Mr Cummins.
Children were NOT told about any counselors being available for them or how to get help UNTIL after the gunshot/suicide skit. That was 114 minutes into the 150 minute program. (yes I timed it)
The introduction given by Mr. Cummins did not mention before to the students that incest or suicide were topics this year. He did mention sex, dealing with parents, peer pressure, and dating in his introduction. He or an administrator did not tell the children that they could exit if they were uncomfortable either.
After watching the program twice I (a fairly welrounded and educated adult) still can not figure out what most of the skits were about or addressed. Skit 1 which was about 2 girls with a boy guide book addressed what?. The female male monologue, other than showing students that 2 people can think differently about a topic, was about what? In the end of the program there was a parental skit with a male student arguing with his parents. I can not figure out the point of this one either.
I will not remain quiet while Ms Walling, Mr. Volraith, and Mr. Tomback flippantly mess with my children. I will, on my own if necessary, follow this very closely and take whatever actions I can to stop this from becoming curriculum.
I, too, attended both screenings of the “Drama Therapy” productions and have some additional points to ponder:
1. Why was there a different “audio track” used in the second screening vs. the one used in the first screening? In the first screening, it is obvious that the audio track is coming from the students’ head mikes, in the second screening, the audio track is obviously from a microphone sitting about 20 feet in front of the stage in the middle of the audience. Whyyyyy? The second screening’s audio was very difficult to understand…do they (the BoE) think the parents are stupid?
2. How about the fact that we were told that this was a “raw and unedited” version of the production and there are obvious rough edits immediately following the simulated suicide scene to include the removal of one “Check, please” skit? What happened that we had to be shown an edited version? See Megan’s (#4 post) statement on Second article here in dagger press.
They continue to waste energy and resources by covering up their failure to abide by the rules. Why don’t they just come out and admit they made a mistake, apologize to all concerned for lying to them, and make retribution to the students they have also duped into defending the “wrong side”? I despise the fact that these teachers, the principal, and the BoE are treating the parents of this community like a bunch of bohunks who will swallow whatever they are told. It isn’t true…this isn’t going to go away until all elements of the matter have been confessed to and remuneration made to all who have been injured. Most especially to children such as Megan’s brother.
Do you mean restitution?
I have come to conclude the only appology and restitution some will accept is the head of someone on a platter. SO the question is whose head shall it be? Do you want Tombacks head, the principal, Volrath, The teachers; or all of them?
Sick of it says
So what you are saying is this is about money???? You are actually admitting it in writing? That is EXTORTION and nothing short of it. PUBLIC FREAKING EXTORTION. You can call it “renumeration” all the hell you want. I call it skankiness and against federal and state laws. I hope to God that the authorities see these posts and that HCPS and Mark Cummins prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.
Sick of it says
So you are clear on the definition of EXTORTION:
“Neither extortion nor blackmail require a threat of a criminal act, such as violence, merely a threat used to elicit actions, money, or property from the object of the extortion. Such threats include the filing of lawsuits, reports (true or not) of criminal behavior to the police, revelation of damaging facts (such as pictures of the object of the extortion in a compromising position), etc.”
See what most people do not realize is that MOST of the people that went to the viewing of the DT production on the 27th were actually only church friends of Rachel Tates! Some of them do not even have children attending public school. Obviously, she doesn’t have as much support as she would like, if she could only get 40 people (many from the same family) to attend the viewing. Has she created these types of dramafests in other aspects of her life? Given what I know of her children, her time might be better utilized worrying about her childrens drinking and partying! I am sure she would be shocked to see some of the drunken, vomitting pictures of her own little angels! Those that cast the first stone usually end up with a goose egg of their own!
Joseph Caruso says
Absolutely shameful behavior! An anonymous ad hominem attack against a concerned parent, her children and friends.
Actually, restitution and remuneration are interchangeable here. They (the principal, the teacher(s) and the BoE) need to stop wasting everybody’s time and resources trying to cover up and deny their wrongdoings with chicanery as has been fostered so far. They need to admit they made a mistake and apologize.
Then they need to take any and all neccessary steps to correct what they have done in dividing the community of Havre de Grace to include: keeping “Drama Therapy” out of the school day (including creative writing class) as it has always been an “extra-curricular” activity and should remain an “after-school” activity with showings of the production (with all proper warnings/disclaimers put in place)kept to evening performances and not as part of the school day. The letter from Principal Wallings states that, in their Four Point Plan, future productions will have “equal learning outcomes” for all students whether or not they attend the production. All subject matters covered in the production are already part of the state-wide Health Education curriculum…there is no need to titillate and make such subject matter “real” if it is properly taught in the classroom.
As for “whose heads”? Well, that is up to the BoE to decide once the original “mistake” has been admitted to: they failed to follow the policies and regulations already in place to properly vet this material through correct channels to ensure that this type of infraction never occurred in the first place.
In other words: If you don’t follow the rules, you have to pay the consequences.
We, as parents, work on that lesson with our children on a daily basis.
The administration’s current behavior is attempting to teach our children that if you manage to cover up your mistakes or drag the matter out long enough to make the problem just “go away”, you can get away with anything. Great message. Just great.
I meant in place of the word retribution!
I meant by my orginal statement that some people, not all, will only settle for the head of someone served up on a platter, much like John The Baptist. Other then that outcome nothing is acceptable. Thus meaning that actually redressing their grievance is second hand to making someone pay! Sounds like a great lesson to teach, we may not solve your problem but a public beheading occured and that is good enough. So again whose head would this crowd like so we can get it over with?
Interested Observer says
CDev: You fail to understand the point Jane is making: there would be no need for a “public beheading” if the adults involved would “pony up” and admit their mistakes. All involved would be much better served by the example of adults behaving like adults in admitting their mistakes and taking responsibility for their actions. Wouldn’t that prove much better for all of Havre de Grace? The people who were led astray will be shown that such behavior was intentionally perpetrated against them and they were intentionally led in that direction, the people who spoke up will be given the opportunity to prove that they were entirely within their parental rights to pursue the people who were perpetuating the “cover up”, and students will gain the benefit of a matter being corrected before further damage could be done.
No beheading, just justice and proper adult behavior serving as an example of how such matters should be handled.
Albert Einstein said it well, “Example is not just another way to teach, it is the only way.”
Interested Observer: Thank you for your attempts to clarify. However, I don’t think that the people who have been fighting for parental rights wish to “prove” anything. They just want to do what is in the best interests of all the kids, not just at HHS but throughout HCPS.
Sick of it says
You aren’t fighting for parental rights. Get over yourself. You skanks are after money. You put it in writing and that fact has been established. You can try and switch it up any way you want. Coveters and theives. All of you. Your best bet Jane is to just shut your stupid mouth now while you all are only just a little bit behind.
Speaking of Sick says
I only see one behind here, and it’s name is Sick of It.
Try adding something useful next time.
Sick of it says
Ok. I will contribute, Speaking of Sick. But you won’t like it. I say we out the adults that are involved in this extortion attempt and expose them to the entire town. I want to make sure that my family does not associate with any of them and that our hard earned money doesn’t go to any of their businesses that they may own.
Speaking of Sick says
See previous comment and focus on the word ‘useful’.
I disagree, I think some will only be happy with a beheading!
Joseph Caruso says
What do you think should happen to resolve the Drama Therapy fiasco?
Well I think the plan they outlined is a good start. I believe that beyond that sticking to the plan is something that should be done as well.
Joseph Caruso says
Fair enough, however the plan doesn’t seem very definitive nor does it go far enough in revealing why and how this program was not vetted in the first place and has no mention of corrective coaching and counseling of HCPS personnel that may have ignored school district policies.
Fair enough but you know as well as I that the discipline of an employee is not for public comment.
Joseph Caruso says
Not exactly, some disciplinary outcomes are legally publicized such as leave with or without pay, termination and demotion. It all turns on the facts and I’m not suggesting a public disciplinary action.
I’m suggesting the HCPS publicly and dispassionately disclose how the program was vetted, managed and administered. Citizens are owed a complete explanation.
In actuality, one is unable to read the entire letter here as only the first page has been presented. When one takes the time to read and re-read beyond the attempt to locate “pertinent words” (eg: opt-out, grade leveled for appropriateness, parental notification, etc.) it becomes apparent that the Four Point Plan fails to address the matter at all. What is being presented is in opposition to what Mrs. Tate has asked for all along: take Drama Therapy out of the instructional school day and allow it to stay an Extra-Curricular Activity. Just as when the football team goes out to run drills, the entire school does not join the team on the field to participate alongside of them. Drama Therapy is an Extra-Curricular “club” and it should stay out of the school day. I, personally, would attribute a whole lot of the problems with today’s youth experience to the use of non-traditional (classical), “modern day” literature, etc. as classroom material. As the old computer adage goes: “Garbage in, garbage out.” If a teacher can’t get his/her students to read the classics, then they aren’t teaching it correctly! This is “good stuff”! Otherwise, why would Shakespeare’s, Chaucer’s, Barrett-Browning’s, etc. works have endured for so many years as examples of exemplary literature?
Finally, someone brave enough to point out the very real dangers of Creative Writing Class. Are you kidding me?
No…not the “dangers of creative writing class”. I meant that the Approved Curricula involved in Creative Writing Class should not include writings that are to be performed in front of an entire school population. That’s part of the problem here. The skits that were student written addressed matters much too complicated to be adequately “fleshed out” and performed in an effort to “help their peers.” The pieces were not properly vetted through curricular review and, had they been, it would have been blatantly apparent that they portrayed events and subjects that were in violation of current HCPS rules regarding that subject matter: Use of profanity, portrayal of underage drinking and sexual activity as generally accepted behavior without their own repercussions,promotion of abortion as the answer to unwanted pregnancy, humiliation and degradation of an intellectually challenged child (with members of the audience including intellectually challenged children) negative attempts at humorous imagery of a person with a mental illness, plus others. There are plenty of pertinent already published theatrical works available to address all of the issues raised in that production. Professional Works that have been, would be, required to pass curriculum review. High School Students producing their creative writing classwork as work to be produced and performed to an entire school should be required to, say it with me: Follow The Rules Already in Place! Creative Writing Classwork should not involve writing about these matters for performance in front of an audience of Seven Hundred Students without it being properly processed according to written policies already in effect.
Sarah P. says
I vote for Dave Volrath … not just for this but many other horrific decisions. It is amazing he still has a job.
An Educator says
I would like to clarify the confusion surrounding the creative writing class’s involvment in this whole problem.
The skits that were selected to be performed as part of Drama Therapy are NOT written in creative writing. That has a curriculum and is followed pretty closely and carefully by the teacher in charge of that class at HHS who takes great care to seek prior approval for the material she publishes from that class as well as in planning her lessons and providing a creative outlet for students.
Please do not confuse these “creatively written” skits as part of that course’s curriculum. Many of those skits were developed from students involved in drama classes or drama therapy in the past and were done as part of that class/teacher’s instructions.
Interested Observer says
Could you, please, clarify in which class this material was written?
Joseph Caruso says
An Educator –
Thank you for the clarification and it seems as though the creative writing program is likely in compliance with HCPS policies.
Sarah P. says
As someone who was a victim of sexual assault as a teenager, I find the comments here extremely offensive. First off, do you realize you are blaming the victim(s)? You are reinforcing the most awful emotion(s) most victims of sexual assault feel which is shame and guilt that they could have done something to stop the attack. One of the skits was about a girl who killed herself after her sister’s boyfriend RAPED her and then there were other performances that were questionable. Do any of the students who wrote any of those skits have any FIRSTHAND experience as a victim of sexual assault?
Shame on the parents here who are attacking other parents who don’t think this was appropriate. News flash for all of you – they are right! This is not about them but about the teacher(s) and the administrators in charge who let this fall thru the cracks. You keep trying to blame the victims and it is making me sick because all they are doing is pointing out what should have happened and didn’t. Just because I was held down and raped without consent doesn’t mean I think my 14 year old should attend a mandatory assembly about it. This is about the ADULTS in charge of minor children who didn’t see anything wrong with inappropriate content shown to minors. It doesn’t matter what you think about anyone involved with this production or the school because they screwed up.
Harford county mom says
Thank you, that was very well said!
From Afar says
I can’t believe someone alleging to be a parent would actually attack someone else’s kid anonymously on an online forum. That’s pathetic. (Not to mention it rests on the premise of arguing two wrongs somehow make a right).
The school system had a chance to remedy the situation from the getgo and instead chose to play hardball with some concerned parents. Unfortunately office politics sometimes dominates the decision-making process and it seems to be the case here. HCPS is probably lucky they have not been sued.
The easy solution is to offer disclaimers and require parental permission for questionable content. If they have to question it then they should be seeking permission. Commercial enterprises are required to check for identification for different levels of motion pictures, tobacco and alcohol outlets ‘card’ kids and video games even come with disclaimers.
Common sense failed to prevail here.