Ithaca school board weighs in on backlash from high school musical casting

ITHACA, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) - The Ithaca City School District Board of Education has responded to their controversial decision to cancel the spring musical. 

The high school decided to do “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” as their spring musical. 

The lead role of Esmerelda-- a Romani gypsy-- went to a white teen.

Students protested the production, saying the role should have gone to a person of color. 

Roma gypsies are descendants of migrants who arrived in Europe from India more than a millennium ago.

In Disney’s animated musical and the novel by Victor Hugo which the musical was based off of both depict Esmeralda as a woman of color.

Last month, after much discussion in the community, Ithaca High School pulled the show, aiming to replace it with something else. 

But the cancellation of the show had repercussions of its own. 

The students who protested formed a group, and then became the target of online threats and racial epithets after the incident was reported in right-wing publications.

The school’s Board of Education is defending its students and their right to protest, saying, “However you may feel about any of the issues involved here, we are confident our children are not the problem, but an integral part of the solution.”

See their full statement below: 

The Board of Education of the Ithaca City School District remains firmly committed to the education, health and, well-being of ALL of our students. It is in this light that our administration made the difficult decision to cancel the scheduled spring musical, the Hunchback of Notre Dame. While much has been said about the casting of the musical, this was not the reason for cancellation. Our administration’s decision was based solely upon the significant stress and divisiveness developing in our school community.  
Unfortunately, the divisiveness has increased as this story has gained national media attention. More distressingly, members of our community, including our students, have been the recipients of hate-filled attacks and vitriolic threats. These attacks, an unintended consequence of the cancellation, also require us to act to ensure the safety of our students.  
First, we condemn the cruel and threatening attacks on our students, staff, families, and community. Our children deserve civility and love.
Second, we support our students and their right to protest. Our district leaders have encouraged just this type of analytic thinking and bold approaches to dialogue around inclusion. We may not always agree, but we greatly appreciate the important and complex conversation our students have started regarding issues of identity and inclusion in the arts. We also note these same issues are playing out from Broadway to Hollywood to colleges and high schools across the nation.
Third, we would like to remind all involved that although we may engage in conversations with the same passion displayed by our youth, we as adults owe them a higher standard of behavior and expression. Our youth are looking to us to help them hone their perspective and show them their voices are valuable. However you may feel about any of the issues involved here, we are confident our children are not the problem, but an integral part of the solution.
Lastly, it is our expectation that Ithaca High School will produce a musical this spring. Students are engaged in collaborative discussions with one another and school leaders regarding next steps. We unequivocally support this effort as our students, teachers, and staff work to create productive and meaningful conversations about inclusion in the theater arts.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding this situation, please contact us directly.

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