On Monday, Superintendent Brian Osborne and Columbia High School principal Lovie Lilly released a statement about , a sketch comedy club. The statement appears below in full:
To the CHS Community:
As you may know, some public debate arose in response to the district's decision to cancel the final performance of "Friday Night Live" (FNL), and to the discipline meted out for infractions related to the show. Respect for the confidentiality of students and staff members has prevented the administration from directly addressing many of these concerns publicly. However, the ongoing controversy has prompted us to provide some clarification concerning the district's approach to responding to this incident.
As a learning community, it is essential that we create positive avenues to reaffirm our core values that everyone is important, and that everyone deserves to be respected. Last week, controversy arose for the second time this year over the differences between humor and offense. Sketch comedy and improvisation should indeed have a place within the public school setting. They can be avenues for brilliance, student creativity and growth, and social satire.
This latest incident is about crossing the line, not merely a matter of who was told to do what or not to do what. The idea that one can push the envelope in the name of "irreverent humor" by deliberately offending and denigrating others cannot be countenanced in a public school setting. All members of the school community, no matter their role or background, should be able to participate fully in the school community without being denigrated or having aspects of their personal identity subjected to ridicule.
The FNL show contained a sketch which was particularly offensive and inappropriate for a number of reasons. Discussing the specifics would compound the invasion of privacy of the several faculty members involved. After being made aware of the offensive sketch on Friday June 8, administrators considered permitting the final FNL performance to take place if the sketch were eliminated. Ultimately, however, the district determined that an additional performance was not in the best interests of the CHS community, and therefore the Saturday performance was cancelled to prevent reoccurrence.
Nevertheless, the students and their families subsequently chose to present the show on Saturday June 9 at an off-campus location. The offensive sketch that the co-directors had agreed to eliminate remained part of the show, although we understand the characters were renamed along with other minor edits.
The district cannot comment on consequences for individual students. We can say that the high school practice is to follow the CHS Handbook and to take into account prior student behaviors. We have reviewed the matter and affirmed that CHS acted within its authority and applied consequences within the guidelines.
This incident has highlighted the need for more accountability and oversight of FNL and other similar groups. Through this controversy, we understand that prior year performances have also included material patently inappropriate for a public school setting. FNL will undergo a thorough review and guidelines will be established that will enable the development and performance of sketch comedy to continue in the best tradition of thought-provoking satire, while ensuring that all members of our school community can be free from ridicule and invasions into their private lives.
More importantly, this incident presents a learning opportunity for our school community. Maplewood South Orange is a very special place where families of all backgrounds have chosen to come together. As a community, it is imperative that we strive to understand other points of view, and navigate with respect the balance between intention and perception. As the character Atticus [Finch] says in To Kill a Mockingbird: "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it."
As we work through these difficult issues together, we can renew our school community's commitment to truly respecting each other in every aspect of our lives, regardless of background or role. The district is planning ways to create more opportunities for dialogue in the school community in the coming school year, and opportunities for each of us to take a walk in the shoes of someone else. We look forward to continuing this dialogue with you in the coming year.
Brian G. Osborne, Ed.D. Lovie Lilly, Ed.D.
Superintendent Principal of Columbia High School