Right To Know Law Request Reveals Discrepancies and Inconsistencies by South Williamsport Area School District Officials
WILLIAMSPORT, PA – On July 10th and July 28th, 2014, Keystone Progress submitted Right to Know requests for all public records concerning the “Spamalot” controversy at South Williamsport High School. A controversy erupted in north-central Pennsylvania in late June, when a local television station aired a story about the South Williamsport Area School District’s cancellation of the spring 2015 musical planned by the drama department, Monty Python’s “Spamalot.” WNEP-TV later retracted part of its story, based on statements by school district officials, but left many questions unanswered.
In response to Keystone Progress’s RTK request, the organization received 63 pages of documents from South Williamsport Area School District Superintendent Mark Stamm. (ALL VIEWABLE HERE)
These documents reveal clear discrepancies between statements made by school district officials to the media and the public in July.
1. The school district asserted that the play was not canceled because of its homosexual content but because of inappropriate language and adult themes. In his emails to Drama Director Dawn Burch, Principal Jesse Smith clearly says he is opposed to the production of “Spamalot” because it portrays a “gay wedding” and has “homosexual themes.”
2. School district officials asserted that "Spamalot" was only one of several plays under consideration and had not actually been put on the schedule, so therefore it had not really been canceled. But the documents show that Smith signed a check from the High School to Theatrical Rights Worldwide on May 12, 2014, to pay for the license agreement to produce "Spamalot" at the High School .
Keystone Progress research shows yet another clear inconsistency between school district officials’ statements and the public record. At a July 27 press conference at New Covenant United Church of Christ organized by Keystone Progress in partnership with Equality Central PA, Superintendent Mark Stamm and School Board President John Engel, Jr. both made statements to the effect that bullying is a natural part of growing up, that bullying occurs all the time in their schools, that every child is subject to bullying, and that school officials and teachers can’t do anything to stop bullying (video from the event of Stamm is here; video of Engel is here). That responsibility, Engel said, lies with parents at home.
A search of the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Safe Schools site shows that over the past five years, SWASD has reported zero instances of bullying at schools in the district. (SCREENSHOTS OF REPORTS FOR THE LAST FIVE YEARS AVAILABLE HERE) If bullying happens there every day, why were none of these instances reported, as required by law?
“Keystone Progress believes that schools should be safe havens for all young people, including those who are questioning their sexuality. The South Williamsport Area School District owes parents, students, and taxpayers an explanation of their actions and words. Why did district officials feel it necessary to cover up the principal’s remarks about ‘homosexual themes’? Why did they assert that 'Spamalot' had not been agreed upon when nearly two thousand taxpayer dollars had gone to purchase the license for performances of the play? And why do they allow bullying to continue in the schools and yet fail to report it as required by state law?” said Keystone Progress Executive Director Michael Morrill.
“The more information we get, the more questions that are raised. It’s clear that the administration would like this to be brushed under the rug, but they owe it to their students, the parents and the taxpayers in South Williamsport to be fully transparent. This is about making sure all children feel that they can trust school administrators and feel safe in their schools. This is about a school administration’s responsibility to the community to be honest and upfront about how they run their schools.”