Vermont Judge Blocks Play Rehearsals; Teacher Denied Use of Film in Missouri

By Anne Bridgman — February 29, 1984 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A federal district judge has denied a request by six Vermont students and their lawyer for a preliminary injunction that would have allowed rehearsals of Elizabeth Swados’s play, “Runaways,” to continue in an East Montpelier high school despite school-board opposition.

Judge Albert Coffin ruled last week against the students from Union District 32 in a suit they had filed against the school board. The students maintain that prohibition of the school play is a violation of their First Amendment rights. Their lawyer, Alan Rosenfeld, has said that he would meet with the board to negotiate a settlement.

The play, which is said to offer a stark picture of prostitution, drug and alcohol addiction, and violence in an urban setting, is inappropriate for rural East Montpelier and for the age groups it would reach, according to Leslie Pratt, the lawyer for the school board.

Mr. Pratt said he believes precedents set by the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts “give school boards what verges on absolute discretion in such matters when they are matters of curriculum.” The Swados play, he maintains, “is clearly a part of the curriculum.” Students receive credit for participating in the production and rehearse both during and after school hours, he said.

But Mr. Rosenfeld, while agreeing that the play is “not a happy story,” said he strongly believes that curricular materials are not immune from First Amendment protection. In addition, he maintains, the board’s attempt to ban its production is “hypocritical” since school officials permit the play to be used in classes.

Scopes Trial

In a situation in which classroom use of theatrical material is at issue, an earth-sciences teacher at Oakville (Mo.) Junior High School has asked an arbitration group to meet with the Mehlville School District over its refusal to allow him to show his students the movie, “Inherit the Wind.” The 1960 film is a fictional account of the 1925 trial of John T. Scopes, a Tennessee school teacher who attempted to teach Darwin’s theory of evolution.

James Dickerson, who says he was denied permission to show the film to 300 students in his 8th-grade class in November 1982, complained to the Mehlville Community Teachers Association, which filed for arbitration. The American Arbitration Association is expected to issue an advisory opinion on the dispute next month.

District officials are not required to abide by the association’s decision. If they do not, the teachers’ association might sue to force a settlement, according to a spokesman for the arbitration group.

Both Ronald Paul, principal of Oakville Junior High School, and Thomas L. Blades, superintendent of Mehlville School District, objected to the film on the grounds that it is historically inaccurate, makes light of religion, and is not appropriate for an earth-sciences class, Mr. Dickerson said.

But Mr. Dickerson disagrees: “I think the movie is pertinent,” he said. “I’ve had my kids see it for the last 10 or 12 years when it’s on television ... I thought it would be a good addition to the curriculum.”

Challenges to films presented in educational institutions are on the rise, according to Nadine Covert, executive director of the Educational Film Library Association. “We’ve observed that the number of challenges has increased in the last five or six years,” she said. Among the topics that are most often censored, Ms. Covert said, are sex education and gun control. “And anything dealing with evolution is still a sensitive topic.”

A version of this article appeared in the February 29, 1984 edition of Education Week as Vermont Judge Blocks Play Rehearsals; Teacher Denied Use of Film in Missouri


English-Language Learners Webinar Helping English-Learners Through Improved Parent Outreach: Strategies That Work
Communicating with families is key to helping students thrive – and that’s become even more apparent during a pandemic that’s upended student well-being and forced constant logistical changes in schools. Educators should pay particular attention
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Mathematics Webinar
Addressing Unfinished Learning in Math: Providing Tutoring at Scale
Most states as well as the federal government have landed on tutoring as a key strategy to address unfinished learning from the pandemic. Take math, for example. Studies have found that students lost more ground
Content provided by Yup Math Tutoring
Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Nearly a Million Kids Vaccinated in Week 1, White House Says
Experts say there are signs that it will be difficult to sustain the initial momentum.
4 min read
Leo Hahn, 11, gets the first shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. Last week, U.S. health officials gave the final signoff to Pfizer's kid-size COVID-19 shot, a milestone that opened a major expansion of the nation's vaccination campaign to children as young as 5. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Education How Schools Are Getting Kids the COVID Shot, and Why Some Aren’t
Some district leaders say offering vaccine clinics, with the involvement of trusted school staff, is key to helping overcome hesitancy.
5 min read
A girl walks outside of a mobile vaccine unit after getting the first dose of her COVID-19 vaccine, outside P.S. 277, Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)
Education Biden Administration Urges Schools to Provide COVID-19 Shots, Information for Kids
The Biden administration is encouraging local school districts to host vaccine clinics for kids and information on benefits of the shots.
2 min read
President Joe Biden, and first lady Jill Biden walk to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. Biden is spending the weekend at his home in Rehoboth Beach, Del. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Education Civil Rights Groups Sue Tennessee Over Law Against Transgender Student Athletes
The state law bars transgender athletes from playing public high school or middle school sports aligned with their gender identity.
3 min read
Amy Allen, the mother of an 8th grade transgender son, speaks after a Human Rights Campaign round table discussion on anti-transgender laws in Nashville, Tenn. on May 21, 2021.
Amy Allen, the mother of an 8th grade transgender son, speaks after a Human Rights Campaign round table discussion on anti-transgender laws in Nashville, Tenn. on May 21, 2021.
Mark Humphrey/AP