The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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July 11, 2013

Controversial school play cancelled in Iowa

OTTUMWA, Iowa — The idea for the school drama department to stage “The Laramie Project’’ – a play about a Wyoming teen who was beaten to death because he was gay – is drawing mixed reviews in this small southeast Iowa community.

The students’ initial reaction was one of excitement, but that thrill was short-lived when School Supt. Davis Eidahl nixed plans for the performance.

"The Laramie Project" by Moisés Kaufman shows the challenges faced by a town after a young man is murdered.

"None of us can understand why they are shying away from it," said Jordan Young, 16, a student who is secretary of the Ottumwa High School  drama club. "The principal [of OHS] wants to get away from bullying, and he has initiatives he really [pushes]. So to hit so hard on a show that addresses bullying, it makes no sense."

Eidahl  said the decision wasn’t so much the play but rather the intensity of the adult subject matter. "The rationale is we really want to produce and showcase family-friendly productions, where all family members can come,” he said.

The debate has turned into what role schools play in dealing with bullies and how students must be taught to address destructive behavior problems.

“Senseless acts of bullying for reasons of differences like those [depicted in] this documentary are a great lesson to be learned,” Eidahl said “But is it the only way we can get this point across? No. It's not about one play, one initiative or one assembly; it's about creating a sense of belonging each and every day.”

In a letter to the editor, Kayla Rowe, an OHS graduate, said students deal with difficult social issues daily and it is critical they learn how to properly address them.

"We have a responsibility as a society to face issues, such as the one presented in The Laramie Project, because without recognizing and tackling them, we are doomed to keep struggling with them without resolution," she wrote.

The students said they were hopeful the superintendent would change his decision.

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Details for this story were provided by the Ottumwa (Iowa) Courier.

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