California Area re-examines suicide-tinged play
The California Area School Board will consider overhauling its spring musical after several parents complained it was insensitive to the family of a high school student who committed suicide nearly two years ago.
The high school drama club is preparing to stage “Zombie Prom,” a musical in which the lead character commits suicide. It is scheduled to run Feb. 28 through March 2.
At the school board meeting Wednesday, Superintendent Brian Jackson said administrators will mull options, which include an alternate script submitted to drama club director Claudia Bennett.
“We contacted the publisher, and there is an alternative script they just came out with that was more, as he put it, ready for younger performers … that does not mention anything at all about suicide,” Jackson said.
“We're very sensitive to the family; obviously it's only been a year and half ago. The decision to change the script, I think, would be prudent, and (the publisher) gave Mrs. Bennett permission to go line-by-line and change the script.”
Jackson said he will meet with students Thursday and involve them in the process.
“The other alternative would be to find something different,” Jackson said. “But at this late stage, it's pretty difficult to do that.”
Felicity Macosta committed suicide April 2, 2011.
Her mother, Lara Macosta, said she was simply questioning the decision to allow the club to choose the play's subject matter after the district previously forbade organized efforts to memorialize Felicity.
They included establishing a scholarship in Felicity Macosta's name and allowing students to wear bracelets bearing her daughter's initials.
At the time of her death, Felicity Macosta was a varsity cheerleader and volleyball and basketball player. Lara Macosta did not attend Wednesday's meeting because of a death in the family.
“I was getting calls and texts yesterday from other parents (that said), ‘Do you know what play they're doing?'” Macosta said via telephone. “Publicity is not something I want. We are very private people.”
Macosta noted that other parents contacted the news media, adding that she was surprised how much the story “snowballed.”
“I didn't start this battle. It has nothing to do with the club or the kids. I just had a question,” she said. “If they have a policy against discussing suicide, then why would they choose that play? … The word is very hard for us to swallow. I'm appalled that (Bennett) chose that play.”
The district's website describes the play as: “Family fun – our Zombie is endearing. He just wants to attend class, take his girl to the prom, and graduate.”
During the meeting, student Ben Thomas asked the board and administration to not change the play. Thomas said he spoke with Lara Macosta, but solicitor Lee Price discouraged Thomas from sharing details the conversation.
Thomas, who said the club has been rehearsing since Thanksgiving, plays a lead character. Thomas said he “means no disrespect,” but the word ‘suicide' is only mentioned once in the script – his line – and he is willing to change it.
“The musical is not about suicide, it is about how true love can conquer anything that stands in the way,” Thomas told the board.
“The moral is that love never dies. … and Mrs. Macosta should know this personally, because even though Felicity is gone, her love for her will never change, never fade and always be as strong as when she was here.”
Board President Amy Todd said money for the play is club-sponsored and not allocated by the board. She assured Thomas he would have a voice in proposed changes.
“We are very concerned about all the students and parents and community in general,” Todd told Thomas. “Mr. Jackson does have several options he will be talking about to you tomorrow.”
A California Area graduate who performed in high school musicals, Lara Macosta said she never intended to have the play canceled or thwart the club's efforts.
“I truly want the play to continue. I don't want to take that from those kids,” she said.
“The school just went about it the wrong way. I can't believe the school didn't catch it and allowed the director to pick that play. I was told it was just an oversight. My daughter is gone, we miss her dearly and this will not bring her back.
“Whatever they decide, we will obviously accept. I'm not going to fight it. I just want peace.”
The district is developing a comprehensive security plan, and school director Thomas Russell said the community should be aware that the board is entertaining the possibility of arming teachers and administrators.
“I would like for the staff to look into having the superintendant and principals, and any teachers who are interested, getting the training and carrying firearms,” Russell said.
“It's not written in stone, but we're discussing it, and we're looking at all the legal ramifications. But it seems to me, with the way things are going today … we think we might need some more coverage.”
For the past three years, an armed California Borough police officer has patrolled the campus.
Solicitor Lee Price warned that the process of arming educators is complicated. It would require approval by the Washington County Court of Common Pleas.
“A school board in Pennsylvania isn't allowed to tell an employee they can have a gun. That would actually be a criminal offense,” Lee said.
“They would have to be appointed as school police officers, and they have to go through the same firearms training that state police and regular police officers go through. You can't just have a permit and a gun.”
Jackson, a former high school principal, was not as enthusiastic as Russell about the concept.
“I don't know if it's something I'm comfortable with,” Jackson said. “I would obviously want quite a bit of training if that was to take place.
“Would I do it? If it came down to it, I probably would. But I don't know if I'd ever be comfortable with it.”
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2635.