ITHACA, N.Y. — Following nearly a week of death threats and racially charged insults directed at students from people throughout the nation, the Ithaca City School District has finally addressed the community regarding the safety of students and the annual spring play.
“The Board of Education of the Ithaca City School District remains firmly committed to the education, health and, well-being of ALL of our students. It is in this light that our administration made the difficult decision to cancel the scheduled spring musical, the Hunchback of Notre Dame,” the ICSD said in a statement. “While much has been said about the casting of the musical, this was not the reason for cancellation. Our administration’s decision was based solely upon the significant stress and divisiveness developing in our school community.”
The controversy surrounding the play began in January when six students — Prachi Ruina, 16, Maddi Carroll, 17, Ari Cummings, 16, Eamon Nunn-Makepeace, 14, and Annabella Mead-VanCort — raised concerns over diversity and inclusion, not only only in the casting of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, but in the general practices of the theater department.
Most recently, the role of Esmeralda, the female lead popularly portrayed by a woman of color in the Disney version of the retelling, had gone to a white student. The students felt that the roll had been whitewashed, but also brought up other instances of discrimination they said they’d experienced throughout their time participating in the theater program.
They created a list of demands for the district and received support from over 100 students at the school. After meeting with school officials, the play was canceled and the prospect of another production was unclear.
After the cancellation, news of the dispute was picked up by national media and the students were on the receiving end of threats and online harassment. The national and local response to the story prompted the district to request additional police presence on campus.
Related: Ithaca teens receive death threats, harassment after ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame’ play cancellation
“First, we condemn the cruel and threatening attacks on our students, staff, families, and community. Our children deserve civility and love,” ICSD officials said in a news release. “…We would like to remind all involved that although we may engage in conversations with the same passion displayed by our youth, we as adults owe them a higher standard of behavior and expression. Our youth are looking to us to help them hone their perspective and show them their voices are valuable. However you may feel about any of the issues involved here, we are confident our children are not the problem, but an integral part of the solution.”
District officials also state that they support students’ rights to protest and organize, saying they encourage “just this type of analytic thinking and bold approaches to dialogue around inclusion.”
The future of the school’s annual spring production was also addressed, with officials saying they do expect a performance of a musical to happen.
Read the entirety of the board’s statement below: