Prince George’s elementary school cancels immigration-themed skit amid objections

A classroom skit that third-graders were preparing to present in a Prince George’s County elementary school was canceled after a parent alerted school officials to material she thought was offensive to immigrants.

The short skit — titled “The Uninvited Guest” — tells a story about Uncle Sam and the people who are welcome at a party in his “Country Haven.” In a nod to the nation’s immigration debate, guests who have lived in the country all their lives and those who have visas are invited to attend, but the Uncle Sam character makes it clear that those who do not have visas — those who “sneak into” the party — are not welcome and must leave.

“Outsiders who pose a threat to the health or safety of my family aren’t welcome here,” Uncle Sam says, according to a classroom copy of the skit obtained by The Washington Post. Uncle Sam berates a visitor who comes in through a window, uninvited, telling him to go back to where he came from. “I don’t want any drug addicts or drug traffickers to come in either. No criminals. We have enough problems; we don’t need to invite more!”

The skit was part of a teacher’s social studies lesson plan on immigration in a county gifted-and-talented class, said a parent whose child is in the course, which is at a school inside the Capital Beltway. The parent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect her child, said the teacher pulled the script from a Web site that provides educators with classroom ideas, work sheets and other supplemental materials.

While teachers can receive approval to bring in outside materials for their curriculums, Prince George’s officials said the skit has prompted the district to take a closer look at such supplemental items, which are widely available on the Internet.

Read 'The Uninvited Guest'

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After receiving complaints about the play's content, the Prince George's County school system deemed it inappropriate and removed it from the classroom. Read it.

“We want to make sure that what [teachers] are pulling is appropriate for the classroom,” said Gladys Whitehead, the school system’s director of curriculum and instruction. “My team has been talking about what guidelines we can enhance to give schools a little bit more direction.”

Under current guidelines, which educators said are loosely followed, teachers inform school leaders of their supplemental materials. If school administrators have a question about whether the material is appropriate, they are supposed to ask the district office to review it.

“We don’t have a definite step one and step two,” Whitehead said.

Whitehead said she did not know if the teacher informed the principal of her plans to use “The Uninvited Guest.” Whitehead said she became aware of the skit after the school’s principal contacted her office to review it.

“We let them know the skit was not appropriate,” Whitehead said.

Whitehead and the parent would not confirm the name of the school or the teacher. The parent said her concern is largely with the content of the skit and that it was available on a Web site aimed at teachers.

According to the copy of the script, it was gleaned from EdHelper.com, a subscription Web site that provides a variety of classroom material. The Post also downloaded an identical copy of the script from the Web site. E-mails and phone calls seeking comment from the skit’s author were not returned.

Kenneth B. Haines, president of the Prince George’s County Educators’ Association, said teachers use supplemental materials to help “liven” up their instruction because students don’t always respond to “canned curricula.” He said teachers are encouraged to “individualize instruction” because students have different learning styles.

Teachers have videos and novels approved by the school system at their disposal to use as supplemental materials, Whitehead said. They also use materials they receive at professional development conferences, from professional associations and from colleagues, Haines said.

“If teachers depart from that list and find success, they may submit newly acquired materials for approval so that their colleagues may share in the knowledge,” Haines said.

But teachers increasingly have been using materials from unspecified origins, sometimes from Web sites that charge a subscription fee, to supplement their instruction.

“So many Web site resources are popping up, especially as we transition into Common Core, so we need a safety net,” Whitehead said, referring to new national academic standards that are making their way into most U.S. classrooms. “We want to make sure there is a second set of eyes to assist the administration and the teacher in making a good decision. We don’t want people to think that we are clamping down on [teachers’] freedoms, but we have to be conscious of what is being put in front of our children.”

A skit that deals with immigration is particularly sensitive in Prince George’s, where more than 27 percent of the county’s students were born outside of the United States or have a language other than English spoken at home. The majority of the school system’s international students are Hispanic.

Gustavo Torres, the executive director of Casa of Maryland, a Latino and immigrant advocacy group, said the skit is offensive and unacceptable.

“The play is horrible. It is racist,” Torres said. He said he was grateful that the parent complained and is pleased that the school system responded appropriately, but “at the same time this was horrendous.”

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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