By Jamie Malernee
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
May 5, 2006
A 10-year-old Coral Springs girl won’t be allowed to sing a controversial President Bush-bashing ballad at her school talent show after her principal deemed it inappropriate and too political.
The song, Dear Mr. President, performed and co-written by the singer Pink, criticizes the president for the war in Iraq and other policies, including his stance on gay rights.
Parent Nancy Shoul says her daughter Molly should be lauded for choosing lyrics that are full of substance rather than pop music fluff. She said the principal’s ban sends a bad message and violates her daughter’s right to free speech.
"If this was a student singing a pro-administration song, no one would quibble with it," Shoul said. "The principal is just running scared and doesn’t want to upset any parents."
The principal of Park Springs Elementary, Camille Pontillo, could not be reached for comment Thursday. In an e-mail provided by the mother, Pontillo explained that the song Molly "chose to sing is a political song and does use the word hell in it." A Broward County School District official said the principal has every right to determine what music her students should hear at a school function.
"This is a fifth-grade student that wants to perform a song filled with lyrics about drug use, war, abortion, gay rights and profanity," said district spokeswoman Nadine Drew. "This is an elementary school that includes kindergarteners and pre-K students."
The song does not mention abortion, and the profanity mentioned is the word "hell." The drug use refers to Bush’s alleged conduct before he became president.
Some of the lyrics read:
… What kind of father would take his own daughter’s rights away
… And what kind of father might hate his own daughter if she were gay
… I can only imagine what the first lady has to say
… You’ve come a long way from whiskey and cocaine
Another portion criticizes Bush for the war:
… How do you sleep while the rest of us cry
… How do you dream when a mother has no chance to say goodbye
Molly said Thursday she thought the song was "really cool" because it spoke about important subjects like war and homelessness.
Molly said she liked the way the song addressed the president directly.
"He should try to listen to what other people say, not just himself," she said.
The decision to pull the song comes about a year after the School Board decided to allow a high school student to wear a T-shirt with the face of President Bush and the phrase "International Terrorist."
Initially, the Nova High School student was told he would be suspended if he did not remove the shirt, but later the American Civil Liberties Union threatened to sue and the board changed its dress code rules, removing the word "offensive" from the description of prohibited clothing. "Students have a right to give their opinions and points of view," says the free speech section of the Student Code of Conduct. Principals may censor, it states, only if the material is obscene, slanderous, likely to disrupt, profane or sells a commercial product.
Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, disagreed with Pontillo’s decision. He expected the school to reverse course after checking the law.
"It’s as if the principal’s worst nightmare is for intellectual debate and controversy to break out in a classroom," Simon said.
Nancy Shoul, a teacher of Spanish at Coconut Creek High and a veteran of more than two decades in Broward public schools, said there would probably be no issue if her daughter wanted to sing the song in middle or high school.
Assuming the decision stands, Molly said she plans to select a new song for the show later this month with a message she thinks school officials wouldn’t object to: A hip-hop song about two girls fighting over a boy.
Jamie Malernee can be reached by firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4849.
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