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Arts & Culture

Parents Upset After CMS Bars Them From School Show, Citing COVID-19

providence high school.jpg
Providence High School
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Providence High School

Parents at Providence High School say they're disappointed with a decision that prevents them from attending the school's spring show, while the parents of student athletes will be allowed to attend indoor sporting events and other athletic competitions.

"If it's safe to put people in a gym, it's safe to put people in an auditorium in family pods far away from each other," said Mitzi Lynch, a parent and president of the school's drama booster club. "There's really no difference."

Another parent, Jessica Daitch, who is also treasurer of the school's drama booster club, called the decision "arbitrary and completely unfair," and said the school district was employing two sets of standards — one for athletes, and one for non-athletes.

The decision, announced in a press release on Wednesday, said all end-of-year celebrations in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, including but not limited to art performances, club events, class events, grade-level events and senior events, may only be attended by students and faculty members, due to "safety protocols."

The decision was made by Superintendent Earnest Winston, with input from principals, department leads, and other school-based staff, the statement said.

"As a parent, I would love to see my children perform and be recognized at their school," Winston said in the statement. "As a district, we are committed to us all being able to do this as soon as possible. We can't risk moving backward at a time when our schools are developing a rhythm of in-person teaching and learning."

However, parents pointed out that no such restrictions had been placed on school sports, and that the school district earlier this month increased attendance limits to 30% capacity for indoor and outdoor sporting events.

Daitch also noted that the school district was moving forward with plans to host indoor, in-person graduation ceremonies at Bojangles Coliseum, and had recently increased the number of guests each student was allowed from two up to four.

"If we can have more people at Bojangles, in an event that will be similar to a play — in that there are people on a stage talking to people in an audience — then why can't our auditorium at Providence High School function similarly?" Daitch said.

Hours before CMS announced the decision, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said at his press conference that indoor gatherings of up to 100 people could be held safely as long as people wear face coverings.

'We Are Ready For This Day'

The 35-student cast at Providence High had been rehearsing since January for their spring production of Spamalot, a musical based on the 1975 cult-classic film Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

The school district profiled the show on its Instagram in February. In the video, the school's theater teacher, Rick Turski, said, "We are ready for this day. We have been waiting to see these students."

The show was staged so the student actors would remain six feet apart as much as possible, and students wore face masks throughout the rehearsal process and planned to wear them during performances.

The show was originally scheduled to open on Friday, April 23, but was delayed as the school waited for a decision from the school district on whether an in-person audience would be allowed.

High school senior Daniel Binder, who was cast in the show's principal role as King Arthur, told WFAE in an interview in March that it felt "amazing" to be rehearsing in person for the show after the school's last spring musical, Mary Poppins, was abruptly canceled on March 12, 2020, in the middle of their final dress rehearsal.

"It was heartbreaking," Binder said. "We had been working on the show since the beginning of December the year before, so ... to have it forcefully taken from us literally the night before we were supposed to open ... it was heartbreaking."

In the final moments of the interview, Binder crossed his fingers hoping that his performance in this year's show — set to be his last at Providence High — would have an in-person audience.

Board Member Urges Reconsideration

Reached by phone on Wednesday, CMS Board Member Margaret Marshall said she disagreed with the superintendent's decision preventing parents from attending the school show, and said she hoped he would reconsider.

"I'd love for them to reconsider it," Marshall said. "I would have advocated for that to happen, and I certainly would support a change."

She said she believed restrictions for school shows should better match those in place for school sports, and she said she approved of the safety precautions the school had taken. Providence High School is located in district 5, which Marshall represents.

Lynch, the school's drama booster club president, said the school was still planning to livestream the performance, even if family members weren't allowed to attend. She said she and other parents were also exploring the possibility of finding an alternate location for the show, but that their first preference was to perform the show as originally planned.

"At the minimum, I think parents should be allowed to come watch their kids," she said.

Superintendent Earnest Winston was not immediately available for comment Wednesday. A spokesperson said the school district was aware of parents' concerns, and was working on a response.

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