HILLSBORO — A large crowd that showed up at Monday’s Hillsboro Board of Education meeting, most of them to protest the school district’s recent cancellation of the fall play “She Kills Monsters” after rehearsals had started, were polite, but some who spoke accused the school district of bigotry, racism, homophobia and providing an environment that is detrimental to LGBTQ students.
Several also demanded that the decision be reversed.
After the meeting, superintendent Tim Davis declined to say whether or not the school administration might reconsider its decision.
“Myself and the administration will discuss the things brought up tonight and address those that talked,” Davis said.
Seven people spoke during the meeting, all against the school’s decision on the play.
The first to speak was Jaymara Captain, a Hillsboro resident with children in the school district who said she and her family have found much discrimination in the Hillsboro City Schools over the years and that she stands in solidarity with the LGBTQ community.
“Despite what you believe… your decision to cancel was detrimental to LGBTQ students,” she said. She said she believed the school administration to be “white, straight and majority male,” and that instead of providing a well-rounded education for its students, the school district caters to students who are not part of the LGBTQ community.
“We’re not OK with what went down and how it went down,” Captain said. “…We demanded a reversal in the decision.”
Patrick Shanahan, a 2015 Hillsboro High School graduate, said he was not concerned about the intent of the district’s decision, but rather the decision’s impact. “You created a perception of homophobia,” he said.
He said it has always seemed to him that the administrators at Hillsboro try to shelter students from less mainstream points of view, and that they “seemed to have blinders on.”
“I hope you had the best interests of the students in mind,” Shanahan said. “… I’d like to see the school address the perception it has created.”
Andrew Sexton said he lives in Dayton, but has two daughters that attend the Hillsboro schools, including one who was in the play.
“Cancelling the school play has once again cast Hillsboro into the national spotlight,” he said, referencing the 1950s battle Black Hillsboro mothers had to take to U.S. Supreme Court to have all Hillsboro’s schools desegregated. He said bigotry is alive and well in Hillsboro, and that the school district’s job is to represent the community as a whole.
“Do better than you past… Change course and let the play go on,” he said.
Savannah Sexton, the Hiillsboro class of 2024 president, said students should be the district’s top priority and that “school is a place for growth.”
Duncan Pickering-Polstra, an HHS senior and member of the play cast, said he was disappointed and that the administration interfered with the cast members’ effort to do what they love to do.
As his voiced raised, he said it was a “small bigoted sect of the community that [the school district] bowed down to” and the administrators “put your egos over doing the right thing.”
The Rev. Terry Williams, pastor at the Orchard Hill United Church of Christ in Chillicothe, said he was contacted by Hillsboro area residents who had issues with freedom of speech and freedom of religion the school was restricting. He said his church embraces the LGBTQ community and that the school was participating in religion censorship.
“My concern is that at this point, the school may be endorsing one religion over the other,” Williams said.
He asked the district to think forward, closing by saying, “May God be with you as you make these important decisions.”
Anna Fleming, who identified herself as a transgender Hillsboro student and asked to be referred to as Eli, said she was severely disappointed for multiple reasons that the play got cancelled. She said the cast and crew had been working for a long time and was excited about presenting the play.
“I have experienced a lot of discrimination at school. It’s hard for me to go to school because I don’t know what I’m going to expect each day. It’s hurtful,” she said.
She said gender and race should not matter.
The public participation portion of the meeting concluded after about 30 minutes and the vast majority of the crowd departed.
But before they left, school board president Bill Myers said he was sorry those who spoke feel like they do. “We’re sorry if you feel that’s the way things are. We love our students here,” he said.
When the play was cancelled last month, Davis released the following prepared statement: “The district’s decision to cancel the fall play is based on the play being inappropriate for our K-12 audience. This production is recommended for ages 12 and older due to the language and mature content. As a district, we based our decision on the play’s use of inappropriate language, profanity, homophobic slurs, sexual innuendos and graphic violence. Furthermore, I have not had any contact or communication with Mr. (Jeff) Lyle or any other religious entities concerning the characters in, or the production of, this play. They had zero influence on this decision. This decision was made after the administration read through the script.
“I do apologize to the students for the time already spent on the play. Future plays and productions will be read and approved by the administration before we hold any auditions. I would also like to apologize to the entire community for any stress or division this may have caused.”
According to Local 12 News, the cancellation of the play came a week after some parents confronted the play’s directors in a meeting, which included Lyle, the founder of Hillsboro church Good News Gathering.
Lyle said in an email statement that he attended a meeting at the request of some concerned parents, but he did not have any contact with the school board, according to Local 12.
Lyle also said, “from a Biblical worldview this play is inappropriate for a number of reasons, e.g. sexual innuendo, implied sexual activity between unmarried persons, repeated use of foul language including taking the Lord’s name in vain,” according to Local 12.
In other news from the meeting, the school unanimously approved a recommendation to use some of its COVID-19 relief funds to grant each full-time school employee one-time additional compensation of $2,000.
“What a better to use the money than to pass it on as a thank you for going above and beyond for our kids,” Davis said. “Everybody does care for those kids, and that’s why they’re here.”
Davis also talked about a new veterans memorial the school unveiled on Veterans Day. He said it was about a year and a half process and that the monument, located on the backside of the school near the entrance to the new auditorium, represents all the Hillsboro students and employees that have served in the military. He said the monument is just the beginning of an area that may include a large mural, other statues, special lighting and possibly more.
In closing the meeting, Myers said he understands that young people are struggling with all the turmoil in the world, “how they fit in it, where they fit in it, and I’m sympathetic to counselors being available for that.”
“I think Hillsboro is striving to do that,” he added. “I guess you can’t make all the people happy all the time, but you can make some of the people happy sometimes.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522.