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Conklin Triggers Mockingbird Appeals Committee, Likely Enabling Play’s Revival

| November 1, 2010

Scout and Atticus review the appeals policy.

At a school board member’s request, the Flagler County school district will appoint an appeals committee to review the district’s decision to cancel a student production of To Kill a Mockingbird. The advisory committee will render a decision within 15 days, and possibly open the way to reviving the play, School Superintendent Janet Valentine said this evening.

School Board member Collen Conklin triggered the appeals process when, at 5 p.m. Monday, she discovered a district policy outlining the process to be followed “when the appropriateness of books or materials is questioned.” Conklin has been pressing since last week for avenues to revisit the play’s cancellation.

“I feel our district, our students and we are better than this,” Conklin wrote in the letter lodging the appeal. “We should not let this define our district in such a negative way.”

The policy doesn’t address such things as the cancellation of a play. It is designed to give parents or other complainants an avenue of lodging complaints against particular books or materials, rather than against decisions reached by district officials banning an item or, as in Mockingbird‘s case, canceling a play. But it’s the closest thing the district has to a policy addressing matters of content in dispute. Conklin, with help from the district, is essentially using the policy to object to an objection. The policy’s final clause enables an appeal all the way to the school board itself, should the complainant (in this case, Conklin) find no relief through the advisory council and the superintendent’s decision.

In other words, Conklin is not only triggering an appeal of the superintendent’s decision to another committee; she is potentially opening the way to an appeal to the board. That’s not likely: Valentine is as eager as Conklin to resolve the situation. Given the fallout from the play’s cancellation, a resolution short of the play’s return in some fashion, especially with Conklin’s appeal process in motion, would amount to little.

Valentine and Flagler High School Principal Jacob Oliva canceled the play late last month, three weeks into the high school drama production’s rehearsals, when objections were raised about the use of the word nigger in the play. It’s not clear who first raised those objections: no individual has been named, though Valentine says a parent made a call. No students in the play objected, though many have spoken critically of the decision to cancel their work. The principal and the district also emphasized that the play’s director, a drama teacher at the school, didn’t follow protocol when he chose the play: he didn’t vet the script through the administration, although the play’s courtroom scene (replete with mentions of nigger), was performed by the high school drama club, in public, in 2002.

The cancellation provoked considerable protest against the decision within and beyond the school: faculty criticized the decision, as have prominent members of the community, black or white, among them former School Board member Jim Guines and attorney Sid Nowell, both black. On the board, Conklin and fellow member Andy Dance spoke openly of wanting to see the play revived later this year, given the proper preparation.

The policy specifies who will serve on the committee. It will likely be led by Diane Dyer, the district’s head of curriculum, and include Chris Pryor, the principal at Matanzas High School, a secondary-school media specialist, a curriculum supervisor, three high school teachers and two parents of high school students. Valentine will make the appointments. Her preference is to take the process out of Flagler Palm Coast High School altogether, meaning that the committee will not include FPC parents or faculty. The committee is advisory: Valentine can overrule it, and the final decision is hers. But she stressed that she was going into the process with an open mind, and was looking to resolve the issue favorably–meaning to have the play staged.

“At this point I think that we’ve heard from the community,” Valentine said. ” I want to make sure that we have good representation on this committee and that we’re looking at all aspects of it again, because from day one we said this is too fast, it wasn’t done in the right way, and we’re going to revisit this. So I’m going in there with an open mind, and I know the people we choose to be on that committee will do the same thing. We want to make the best decision possible.”

Valentine was asked if that made a revival more hopeful. “Sure,” she said. “There is always hope.”

In a reflection of the somewhat frantic tempo of the debate since the play’s cancellation, Conklin, in a hurry to ensure that the matter be addressed through the school board tonight, quickly hand-wrote her letter earlier this evening “officially requesting to activate the appeal process regarding the decision” to cancel To Kill a Mockingbird. She reiterated her desire to see the play performed.

So did Dance. “My hope is that we would come to a discussion point where we would be able to allow the play to occur,” he said. “Maybe this is one way to jump start that.”

School Board Chairperson Evie Shellenberger, who’d just been paid a tribute by her fellow board members for her last meeting before retiring, spoke of having gone to many school plays where audiences are slim to none beyond friends and family, and those required to attend the plays. “Truthfully, the public does not support our high school theater. I wish they would,” Shellenberger said, ” and I hope that whatever decision is made, I hope the public will have a change of heart and start coming to the high schools, both high school productions, middle school productions, elementary school productions and supporting their children. You know, it’s very easy to sit back and play armchair quarterback. It’s so easy to do that, especially when you don’t have to do it face to face, when you can just type it, but OK, you’ve said your peace, let’s put your money where your mouth is, depending on what the decision is, and come out, spend your $8 or $12 and support these kids, because they are good, they are very good. Anything good comes out of this, I hope that’s it, that we fill those auditoriums when these kids put all that work into their production.”

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14 Responses for “Conklin Triggers Mockingbird Appeals Committee, Likely Enabling Play’s Revival”

  1. Kaylyn says:

    This is a step in the right direction. I hope good decisions are made as I would really love to see this play performed at FPC. It will do the school and county a great service by showing that we are not ignorant people and wish to further ourselves in society, not retreat back to the times of the 1960s. Plus, I believe with all this debate that the audience will be larger than that of the parents and classmates crowd. I know that if I am still in town I will be going with my MHS sister and who ever else I can encourage to do so as well.

  2. cyd weeks says:

    Thank you so much for keeping on top of this. Many thanks to Colleen. May we have sanity, enlightenment and common sense back in that school.
    I still think there should be a clearing up regarding the emails, accusations, denials and complaints.

  3. Merrill says:

    Censorship is wrong. Showing our students how it’s done in real life is worse!
    Hopefully, someone will share with the appeals committee, the racist words of our State Song about “Darkies” longing for the old plantation:

    1st verse
    Way down upon de Swanee ribber (river)
    Far, far away,
    Dere’s wha my heart is turning ebber,
    Dere’s wha de old folks stay.
    All up and down de whole creation
    Sadly I roam,
    Still longing for de old plantation
    And for de old folks at home.
    All de world am sad and dreary,
    Ebry where I roam,
    Oh! darkies how my heart grows weary,
    Far from de old folks at home.
    2nd verse
    All round de little farm I wandered
    When I was young,
    Den many happy days I squandered,
    Many de songs I sung.
    When I was playing wid my brudder
    Happy was I
    Oh! take me to my kind old mudder,
    Dere let me live and die.
    3rd verse
    One little hut amond de bushes,
    One dat I love,
    Still sadly to my mem’ry rushes,
    No matter where I rove
    When will I see de bees a humming
    All round de comb?
    When will I hear de banjo tumming
    Down in my good old home?

  4. Jim Guines says:

    Thanks Colleen for your creative and constructive leadership, That is a move in the right direction..

  5. Missed this update til today. Colleen – so thrilled that you found a way to maybe have this lousy decision reversed. I guess it’s one of those rare times when procedural red tape comes in handy.
    Kudos for the discovery and willingness to push the issue. Can’t have been easy.

  6. emile says:

    Thank you so much, Ms. Conklin. It was a wonderful thing you did for our community.

  7. A Voter says:

    Hold on here. Based on what I am reading the superintendent is eager to resolve the situation, as is Ms. Conklin. What do the other board members have to say? We heard from one member trying to sell the protocol rationale. It is very unusual for a politician to be silent.

    So why the appointing of a committee which the superintendent can overrule?

    The easiest and most straightforward solution is to stop the the posturing and the superintendent should re-instate the play. After all the decision is hers isn’t it?

  8. Kip Durocher says:

    Good job all around !

    The Flagler County School Board stepped up to the plate and formed a committee .
    Which may or may not lead to another committee and/or a special school board meeting.
    Make sure everyone gets per diem and mileage.
    Thru this meandering pilgrimage no one need be held accountable or sanctioned for their
    egregious decision making. Government in action ~ a wonder to behold.
    No one is accountable for anything. Cleanly swept under the rug of committeeism.

    I have always wondered why national politicians felt that the voters were so foolish. I think it is because the local politicians tell them that they are.

    And ~ in there asking the hard, tough questions, pressing for answers.
    Moderating the debate. I remember many years ago in Community College in Florida ~ who, what, when, where, why and how. I believe I was told that was journalism.
    “No Bull. No Fluff. No Smudges. No Position. No Stories”

    Pierre, you are just another tool of the system ~ the status quo ~ and sadly I think you know it. I guess you do not have the financial resources to be an independent journalist.
    You are unable to ruffle any feathers or ad revenue may be cut. It is tragic as the truth could sure use an advocate here in new boy network Flagler County.

  9. Kip – sometimes doing the right thing is better than being right, and that’s if one makes allowances that being a 100% right about anything is even possible in the first place.
    In this case – the more rational, saner minds will hopefully prevail. Anger, whether justifiable or not, accomplishes very little (although at times it wins elections).

    You appear to prefer “off with their heads” type action to discourse and actually trying to get this play put on. Most of us have gotten over our maximalist stage post teenagehood.

  10. Kip Durocher says:

    Inna-Yes Inna I prefer “off with their heads”, at heart I am an anarchist. If ½ the right thing was done we quite may well have some other individual sitting in the superintendent’s chair and you would not have this opportunity to dress me down. But, we accepted door 1 without ever looking in door 2 or 3. We accept less, then we accept poor, then we accept what ever is thrown at us. The issue here is not if a show does or does not go on. The issue here is the unqualified people we accept everywhere to make these poor decisions. Now we are at a stage where we are today. I do not know if you are happy or sad about the quality of people who Flagler county, Florida and the United States put into office today ~ we just accept our new governor taking the 5th amendment over 25 times. We just accept second-rate school board members. I seldom get angry Inna, but I do get sad. As we slowly become less I get sadder.
    Maximalist — n a person who favors direct action to achieve all his goals and rejects compromise.
    I have had my principles this long I think I will keep them.
    Actually, read Pierre’s essay he put in today, He makes some very good points although his brush stroke is too broad, he needs a finer, more local stroke.

  11. Kip – I don’t accept things I disagree with, but I do understand that impeaching elected officials or calling for employees to get fired in this case is disproportionate to the wrong that was done. That said, we do get to vote in our representatives, and in that sense, we do get what we deserve – until the next election and the next.
    Beyond that, we can rant or make a difference. In the world that is hardly ever black and white, compromise is generally required.
    One girl’s opinion, of course, and should be counted or discounted as such.

  12. Rick Long says:

    This is only the beginning. At least the community is aware that there is a problem with the administration at Flagler Palm Coast High School. Now can we talk about the school’s grade? Mr. Oliva made the hiring decision for the school’s new reading coach. He overlooked the most experienced applicant, a black woman, for the absolutely LEAST experienced applicant, a mid-twenties, fresh out of college, white woman. The school’s grade dropped from an A to a D, and hasn’t recovered since. Way to keep making those great decisions! Since Mr. Pryor is deciding the fate of the play, maybe he can run both schools while he’s at it. He can bring his reading coach along, too. Maybe the school will show more improvement than just presenting a play.

  13. Kip Durocher says:

    I’m sorry Rick, I hope no one in your family was screwed up by this man’s apparent poor insertion into Flagler schools. Sadly, it is over. The news cycle is over and incompetence in the Flagler School board, superintendent’s office and top management is old news. On with the new. Pierre waxes whimsically about Regan and star wars. The old new boy system is intact. Palm Coast plans to build a castle for the city manager. Flagler County folks are wrangling to insert a tax with a “super majority.” I like that term ~ has power to it. Flagler Beach commis gonna chase their tail some more.
    Bang the drum slowly.
    Me, I am gonna go fishing and talk to the birds.

  14. ---- says:


    Please get an understanding of how a school is graded. The high schools have not yet received their letter grades from last year and they are decided through an AYP system. It is not fair to judge yet.

    Also, I am going to defend Mr. Oliva and FPC. Mr. Oliva, in my opinion, is a very good principal. FPC houses the brightest students in the district. Mr. Oliva is working on becoming Dr. Oliva in the coming weeks because he has been attending UNF while running FPC. He is not a bad leader nor is he an unintelligent man. Just some things to consider.

    And to Kip, it is a terrible thing to attack a man on HIS own website. If you are going to talk about Mr. Tristam, take your words elsewhere. His readers do not want to hear them.

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