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McCaskey cancels spring musical 'Hairspray' after students raise concerns about insensitive language

Intelligencer Journal - 2/28/2021

School District of Lancaster’s superintendent has canceled the spring high school musical after a group of students who auditioned expressed concern over the play’s derogatory language in describing Black and Hispanic people and people with disabilities.

Superintendent Damaris Rau said she made the decision to cancel McCaskey Campus’ rendition of “Hairspray,” based on the 1988 film and subsequent hit musical of the same name. While the overall theme is about inclusion, Rau said, the musical uses inappropriate language that isn’t fit for students, especially now.

“This is not the appropriate time to put on a musical like this,” Rau said, referring to the racial strife over the summer as well as the mental health impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on children.

“Kids are too raw” right now, she said.

Based in 1960s Baltimore, the story of “Hairspray” revolves around teenager Tracy Turnblad, whose dream to dance on a local television program is realized when she wins a role on the show. She turns into a celebrity overnight and, with her newfound influence, successfully leads a campaign to allow Black dancers to perform regularly on the show.

When a group of McCaskey students wrote an email to the principal describing their concerns, the email was forwarded to Rau. That sparked the superintendent to look up and read the original musical script herself.

The school district declined to share a copy of the email because it was a private correspondence between students and administration.

Rau then made the call to cancel the show and advised the musical directors to consider other opportunities.

“Everyone was a little bit surprised that I was involved,” Rau said. A few students and parents emailed her, she said, but the pushback stopped after she explained her reasoning.

In an email, music teacher and director Lakisha Welch told LNP | LancasterOnline she had “nothing to say” about the situation.

It’s unclear whether McCaskey will put on a different musical this spring.

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Crédito: ALEX GELI | Staff Writer

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