By Gretchen Webster
Calling out “lies” by quoting the Bard, Supt. of Schools Thomas Scarice moved to quell rumors Wednesday that Staples High School has canceled a class in William Shakespeare’s literature for ideological reasons.
The cancel-culture rumor, which Scarice called “categorically false,” has circulated through the community over the last several days, according to his statement, without specifying its origins.
WP06880 sees TEAM Westport influence
However, a post on the WP06880 website — an anonymous group critical of school and town officials on grounds of “political activism and moralizing intrusions in the classroom” — contends that “an elective course on Shakespeare at Staples High School has been cancelled. Parents also note Shakespeare appears to be getting reduced representation across English classes.”
The website lays blame for the course cancellation on TEAM Westport, an advisory committee to the first selectwoman on topics of diversity, equity and inclusion.
“You told a lie, an odious damned lie,” Scarice said to those circulating the course-cancellation rumor, quoting a verse from Shakespeare’s play, “Othello.”
“This past weekend, messages were sent in the community alleging that our schools canceled the offering of a Shakespeare course at Staples High School, some going so far as to claim this action was based on ideology,” the superintendent wrote in a community update on several topics.
“To be clear, these allegations are categorically false. In fact, the Shakespeare elective was taught today at Staples High School,” he said.
In response to Scarice’s statement, the anonymous group posted a statement Wednesday to “clarify” its earlier post, saying, “We never made any ‘allegations’ but simply asked for information as to what role, if any, ideology may have played in these decisions.”
Too few signups justify offering Shakespeare course next fall
However, the course on Shakespeare, an elective at Staples, will not be offered in the fall because of a lack of enrollment, Scarice noted in the statement. “Not enough students requested the course for next year and it will not run. This happens to all elective courses. Given the pattern over the years, I suspect the Shakespeare elective will run again in the future,” he said.
WP06880, in a post last Saturday, said the Shakespeare classes were cancelled because of the anti-racist stance championed by TEAM Westport and Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, a nationally known anti-racism activist, who spoke in Westport in 2018.
“As we have noted previously, Kendi’s organization has for years been championed by TEAM Westport and has provided extensive training to our teachers and various town employees. Now another literary giant whom Kendi finds objectionable seems to be on the chopping block,” the blog said.
The post also contends the same anti-racist policies led Westport schools to downplay use of the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which it says previously was “a core element of Westport’s 8th grade curriculum but no longer is.”
Bailey denounces “disinformation, innuendo”
Harold Bailey Jr., the chairman of TEAM Westport, who previously has expressed concerns about the purpose and goals of Westport Parents 06880, reacted to the group’s Shakespeare cancellation rumors late Wednesday.
“The frenzy with which this ‘anonymous’ site continues to serve up disinformation and innuendo in the cause of fear and loathing has become both appalling and pathetic,” he said in an email.
“Neither TEAM Westport nor Ibram Kendi during his time in Westport advocated for the curricular changes in Westport schools detailed and implied in the letter,” Bailey said.
Kendi was the keynote speaker at the town’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day commemoration in 2018 at the Westport Country Playhouse.
Anti-racism training also was provided to various organizations in Westport by Kendi, or reflecting his ideas, the following year, including at Temple Israel, the Unitarian Church and the Westport Library.
Kendi is the author of five books for adults and three books for children on anti-racism. He has won the National Book Award, was honored as the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University in 2020, and is the founding director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research.
The anonymous parents blog also attacked TEAM Westport in January for the topic of the group’s annual essay contest, calling the essay prompt “unsurprising given this organization’s ongoing efforts to impose its neoracist ideology.” The essay prompt was:“Why It Can Be So Difficult To Talk About Race.” The essay contest was co-sponsored by the Westport Library.
Gretchen Webster is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Westport Journal. Learn more about us here.