Thursday, October 10, 2013

Cave Creek Unified and the Drama Teacher Blow up: A View from a Student


In case you had not heard, Cave Creek Unified suspended a high school drama teacher for using instructional materials that some parents found objectionable.  You can read the most balanced story about the suspension here in the Arizona Republic from reporter Mary Beth Faller.

Cactus Shadows student Kyle Kuo wrote a letter to Superintendent Debbi Burdick about the incident.  My. Kuo  is a Cactus Shadows senior who apparently is a student of the suspended teacher. We offered Mr. Kuo the chance to present his letter to the community.

Below is his letter in it entirety with no editing other than removing Mr. Kuo’s address (formatting errors are my fault). You can find Mr. Kuo at @kylepkuo.

[Address Redacted]

October 8th, 2013

Dr. Debbi Burdick
Superintendent, Cave Creek Unified School District
33606 North 60th Street
Scottsdale, Arizona 85266

Dear Dr. Burdick,

One could not help but hear the roaring thunder that are the hundreds of students in distress about the future employment of Mr. Andrew Cupo within the Cave Creek Unified School District. I have watched the news reports, read the articles, and been a part of the discussion taking place in our quaint town of Cave Creek. Hearing your comments about the matter, regardless of media influence, was upsetting. While the actions the District has taken may be included in some sort of protocol, I still cannot fathom how this issue reached such a boiling point.

Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to speak in front of you and your other colleagues serving on the District Board of Directors as I was working, but I wish to have my voice heard via this letter.

I am sure you have heard the many wonderful things Mr. Cupo has done for students while serving as not only a teacher, but a mentor for many. For me, it was overcoming the fear of speaking in front of a group of my peers. I have worked with him over my high school career to further propel me into being comfortable speaking in a public setting, and I cannot thank him enough for that as I continue my successes in DECA and many other extra-curricular activities.

Aside from the many Cactus Shadows students who have spoken out about the wonderful things Mr. Cupo has done for them, I believe it is important for yourself and the school board to understand the future of Cactus Shadows if his suspension is turned into termination.

· The school would no longer have the acting and stagecraft expertise that Mr. Cupo brings on campus.

· The Drama Club/Department would cease to exist without a replacement. (Next in line would be Ms. Elissa Ericson who is currently running the dance programs).

o There are students in this department that are scholarship/college hopefuls and need this department in order to obtain the financial need that they so desire.

· The district would lose the public reputation of a school with a strong Fine Arts program.

o Students interested in this career path would move elsewhere.

· The Jokers Improvisational Troop with also cease to exist without a replacement.

You may understand how large the Drama Club/Department is, but the time, work, effort, and heart these student pour into their shows is truly amazing to experience on a side-by-side level. Seeing the students who will be playing roles in the upcoming show “MacBeth” (something else being jeopardized) walking around campus with their raggedy, highlighted scripts in hand is neat (for lack of a better word). Any free moment these students have is spent working tirelessly to create a show the campus will be buzzing about for months. Taking that opportunity away from the students would be downright cruel. Not to mention tarnishing the hard-work and extra-time Mr. Cupo spends running and leading the show crew.

In regards to the curriculum being criticized, was there not a process in place to filter the lessons our students are being taught in the classroom? Was there not a third-party in this situation that cleared the curriculum because they saw a lot of educational value in the material? Why must this fall all on Mr. Cupo? These are questions I would like to be answered. Both for my own knowledge, but also for the knowledge of my peers.

I also could not help to notice the fact that there were permission slips and alternate assignments available to students who did not agree with the material, or whose parents did not agree to the material. The student who said she felt “discriminated against” if she did not comply with the rest of her classmates had many other avenues to address her concern if this material truly affected her. Do these permission slips and perpetual warnings about the materials go unnoticed in this decision? Or how about the parent who spoke out against Mr. Cupo stating that he did not know the material while signing the permission slip. Is that an acceptable excuse for ignorance? I present you with the situation where my parents sign the permission slip for watch the video shown freshman year to every Health student. Who should be held responsible if my parents authorize consent to something while not knowing what they just signed off on?

I would also like to draw your attention to some other works of literature being taught on the same campus as The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia:

· The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Where racial slurs are the norm for this narrative.

· Romeo & Juliet: A classic piece of literature taught in almost every high school around the country. Chalk full of sexual innuendos in which the reader (student) is expected to comprehend and relate back into what the author’s message/purpose is.

· The Kite Runner: A novel of two children growing up in a war-torn nation. Do not be fooled, there is a graphic rape scene in the last few pages.

At what point do we draw the line at what is “taboo” and unacceptable for children to read? Is it about the content of the literature, or how it is taught?

The thought of book banning is truly sickening to me. Personally, I will not stand for the opinion of someone else’s parent, nonetheless my own, to make the decisions on what pieces of literature are openly available to me in a school setting and which are not. The point of literature in a school setting is to find the author’s theme, plot, and underlying message. How to find character development, plot twists, irony, literary devices. This is all kaput when parents, not educated on educating, are allowed to censor the types of thematic elements I am subjected to.

I understand the points I have presented to you are not fully encompassing of the situation, but they portray my opinions on the decisions you and your colleagues have direct influence in. The termination of Mr. Cupo would be extremely upsetting to not only the many students on campus, as well as to those alumni who have gone to pursue their career goals, but to the District leadership as well. I am pleased to be able to say that I work for a company where I am repetitively told that my managers and executives will always back me up 100% regarding complaints and issues. This is clearly not the case in the Cave Creek Unified School District and your comments made to the media prior to the School Board meeting disgraces me and the loyalty I have with the Cactus Shadows campus, and with this District.

I am not alone when I say this, but I hope that you, Dr. Debbi Burdick, and your colleagues as sitting officials on the Cave Creek Unified School District Board of Directors, will make the right, moral choice in keeping Mr. Andrew Cupo as an employee and valued mentor to this school district.


Kyle Kuo

Senior, Cactus Shadows High School

Student, Mr. Cupo’s Acting Class

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