, Salem, MA

March 29, 2014

School officials swing the razor of censorship

What others are saying
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — One of the themes of the great American musical “Sweeney Todd” is how petty tyrants abuse their power to rob others of their rights, turning their victims and society at large mad.

That is precisely why the Timberlane Players ought to perform “Sweeney Todd” — with Timberlane, N.H., School District administrators and officials strapped into front-row seats.

“Attend the tale of Sweeney Todd ...”

Alas, that is apparently not to be.

Timberlane officials have taken it upon themselves to cancel the 2015 production of Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece, because the script made School Superintendent Earl Metzler and other officials “uncomfortable,” to use Metzler’s word.

No, we can’t have art that makes anyone uncomfortable, especially officials.

Even a teensy bit uncomfortable. The Players planned to produce the school edition of the musical, a PG-13 version specially adapted by Sondheim to make it suitable for high schoolers and people like Metzler.

Disappointed student actors and parents are hoping to reverse the decision. Metzler has promised a public forum on the issue at some point — after the decision has been made.

Why not have the forum first, then make a decision, you ask?

To quote the Red Queen in “Alice in Wonderland,” another great work of art that touches on the connection between the abuse of power and madness, “Sentence first — verdict afterwards.”

Also, quoth the queen, “Off with their heads!”

Which is what Metzler threatened when unhappy students started a Facebook page to protest the censorship.

The students were advised to kill it or face the consequences: “suspension, expulsion or even legal consequences.”

“This is not about free speech,” Metzler claimed.

Of course not. It never is.

“Those students are free to let us know what they feel about things,” Metzler said. “But it does not give them the right to be rude and disrespectful.”


We would suggest Metzler do a word search on the First Amendment to see if it turns up “rude” or “disrespectful.”

That advice would probably be wasted. But we can tell Metzler that being polite is not a condition of free speech.

Let’s face it, the Timberlane School District has a history of censorship and suppression of information. It is the district that sealed the records of an allegedly wayward administrator for 99 years. Well, hello, Rip Van Winkle!

But Timberlane now has reached a new low.

Last week, the School Board approved a policy that bars board members from talking to the press. Everything now must go through the chairwoman, Nancy Steenson.

Steenson suggested that board members are still free to speak to constituents one on one, if not the press.

Actually, not so much — even if it were possible for the nine board members to return the calls of their hundreds or thousands of constituents.

That’s because another clause in the new policy states: “All decisions made by the Board will be supported by all board members regardless of how a member voted. Efforts to undermine a decision will not be tolerated.”

So, we have not only speech control but also thought control.

When you call up your brainwashed School Board member, he or she is bound to tell you, “I support all decisions made by the board.”

So much for the democratic process, as well as free speech.

Shamefully, seven out of nine members of the School Board voted to be bound and gagged. We can only hope they’re not made uncomfortable.

Some students and parents, uncowed by Metzler and Steenson, are speaking up.

We urge others to resist and stand against these illegal dictatorial policies.

Only then will Timberlane’s dam on the free flow of information be breached.