In Wilton, CT, as part of an advanced theater class at Wilton High School, theater teacher, Bonnie Dickinson, asked her class to create a play about the conflict in Iraq. Her goal was to encourage kids to put themselves in the shoes of soldiers close to their age in Iraq. The result was a play called "Voices in Conflict"
The play was based on letters from American soldiers in Iraq, drawn from sources including the book “In Conflict: Iraq War Veterans Speak Out on Duty, Loss and the Fight to Stay Alive”; a documentary, “The Ground Truth”; Web logs and other sources. However, the school principal decided to cancel the play, citing concerns that it might be upset families with members who died or are currently serving in the war. Students involved in the production have said that Principal Tim Canty called the play too inflammatory.
"[Canty] told us the student body is unprepared to hear about the war from students," said Sarah Anderson, a senior in the play. "[A]nd we aren’t prepared to answer questions from the audience and it was wasn’t our place to tell them what soldiers were thinking."
One student in particular, Gabbi Alessi-Friedlander, whose brother is serving in Iraq, has become enmeshed with this controversy. Originally, she had joined the production to contribute positive stories on the war. But now, she is taking the side of the opposition, having contended that the play was not a balanced account of the war. According to some students in Wilton High, she has complained about the play, and is behind GabriellaAF, who claimed the cancellation of the play a victory on the Facebook chat room "Support the Troops in Iraq".
Originally, after the play had been created, Canty required that the script be toned down to bring more of a political balance and soften the material. Those involved with the production of the play complied, adding characters, removing or diluting some of the content, in an effort to speak to more sides and lessen the negativity.
In terms of the First Amendment, the issue is not clear cut. First Amendment lawyers have said that Canty has some protection to limit speech that could cause disruption to his school, and can be weighed for educational merit if it is performed during the school day.
Yet, Canty could run into First Amendment problems if he, as students have claimed, has halted efforts to stage the play at night, or at an off-campus location.
Along those lines, Dickinson has said that Canty told her that the play cannot be performed "outside of the four walls of the classroom", and that she is to have nothing to do with the play.
As it currently stands, the school administration has offered in a public statement to cooperate in a reworking of the play:
"We would like to work with the students to complete a script that fully addresses our concerns. We then would like to explore appropriate settings to share the script so that guided discussion and support would be available. We also would like to explore the issues involved in this situation in larger contexts. We will work with the Social Studies teachers to continue teaching and discussion about the war in Iraq. In addition, we will plan discussions in those classes around free speech, public school responsibilities, proper use of sources, and other related issues."
The content of this summary of the "Voices in Conflict" controversy was drawn from the articles "Play About Iraq War Divides a Connecticut School" (New York Times) and "Wilton officials, students and families embroiled in ‘Voices in Conflict’ debate" (Wilton Bulletin)