Petition Against School Play Backfires in New Jersey

Parents in Cape May, New Jersey, protested the Middle Township High School reproduction of the Broadway musical Pippin, saying the usage of profanity and sexual innuendo is, what one person noted, moving kids away from an “ethical and moral lifestyle.” Moreover, they insisted that the school board take steps to make sure that plays such as Pippin never grace the theater stage again.

The Tony Award-winning musical Pippin tells the story of the son of Charlemagne and his navigation through young adulthood. Chosen for its relevant subject matter, the play, which was given a mature rating as warning, was performed in early March and met with strong support from alumni, students, and community members. “It’s awesome that we do out-of-the-box shows,” said student Kaitlyn Bailey. “It exposes students to different cultures and different experiences.” Another commented that due to the challenging nature of the material, it “opened up a new experience and showed us how to handle ourselves on stage with this content.”

Not everyone was so supportive, though. Shortly after the play was performed, some parents launched a petition against the play. Receiving 140 signatures, the upset parents argued that the play violated school policies that ban the usage of offensive language and public displays of affection. “I don’t see the purpose,” said parent Sue Sterling. “We don’t use bad words in our family. I am a Christian woman and feel you are degrading me and my family because of what we live by.”

Arguing that their tax money shouldn’t go towards these types of productions in a school board meeting later in March, they insisted that the board take active steps in regulating what plays are chosen to be performed — in effect calling for the censorship of material that a handful of people deem be inappropriate.

In response to the petition, the New York Post aptly pointed out that “Sterling is likely wondering why the drama teachers didn’t pick a nice, morally straight show — like ‘Guys and Dolls,’ with its gambling, drinking and downright mockery of religion, or ‘The Music Man,’ about an unrepentant con artist who faces zero consequences for swindling an entire Iowa town… ‘Pippin’ is a rare bird. Despite a few curse words and a couple racy scenes, it deals directly with issues all teens face: searching for purpose, discovering identity, trying new things.”

That said, did the play really violate school policy?

At the beginning of the school board meeting, Superintendent Dr. David Salvo noted that the play had been “modified for age appropriateness of the players and audience” and accomplished its “educational goal” of providing a “real and meaningful learning experience for students.” Moreover, Dr. Salvo also pointed out that, although the play does include some offensive language and sexual innuendo, it did not violate policy. According to board Solicitor Amy Elco, “If it is part of a structured activity, such as reading a book or a play, and the student is not choosing to say it (profanity) but read it, then it is not against policy.”

The root of the complaint stems from what we have seen so often in other past cases. This is another instance of parents attempting to regulate the educations of all students instead of parenting only their own family while hiding behind the argument of policy violation. “This is the age of information,” said a local librarian. “If you are concerned, it is your right and duty to be informed,” and that goal can be accomplished by doing some quick research on the internet. But parents should remember that they can’t make decisions for all of the students in a school, only their own.

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Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!