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Principal apologizes for ‘racially insensitive’ scene in middle school play

In the scene, a character eats peanuts and is transformed into a monkey; in the school’s casting, the only Black student who was in the play performed that role.
Credit: WXIA
Vickery Creek Middle School sign

FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — School administrators in Forsyth County apologized, Monday, to students and parents, because of a performance of a play last week by a middle school drama club that included a scene that the administrators acknowledge was racially offensive.

And administrators are blaming themselves, not the students, for failing to make changes before the curtain went up.

The drama club at Vickery Creek Middle School rehearsed for months to get ready for last week’s performances.

Their spring play, “Sherlock Meets the Phantom,” was written in 1975. In one key scene, one of the characters eats peanuts and is transformed into a monkey. And in Vickery Creek’s performance, the student who was cast to portray that peanut-eating monkey was the only Black student in the play.

“It was very racially insensitive,” said Jennifer Caracciolo of the Forsyth County School District.

Caracciolo said that on Saturday, one person who had seen the play complained to administrators.

By Monday evening, Vickery Creek Middle School Principal Scott Feldkamp was apologizing to all school parents, by email and by phone -- including the parents of the Black student -- saying he had not known that parts of the play were “racially insensitive, particularly towards our African American students and families,”

Feldkamp wrote it’s his fault, not the fault of anyone else, saying he should have previewed the play so he could have caught the scene and made changes prior to the performances.

He will preview student plays from now on, he wrote.

Caracciolo said what’s even more frustrating is that all school employees, including the adults supervising the play, have been undergoing Diversity Equity Inclusion (DEI) training, in a district-wide effort that began in 2013.

Then, in the fall of 2019, 11 Vickery Creek Middle School students were disciplined for targeting minority students at the school with dozens of racially offensive and hateful posts on social media that included multiple uses of the n-word.

“Obviously, with the incident that happened at that one middle school (last week), we still have a long way to go in our journey,” Caracciolo said.

The drama club’s calendar, posted on the school website, shows that rehearsals were scheduled to take place twice a week from January through April, right up until the two dress rehearsals scheduled for Monday and Tuesday of last week, followed by the club’s three performances, Wednesday through Friday.

It was not clear if anyone during those months raised any concerns until someone in the audience of one of the performances complained to administrators on Saturday.

And it was not clear if any of the parents, including the parents of the Black student, were aware.

Caracciolo said it was not the middle school students’ responsibility to notice and speak out. 

“It should be on our staff members (and administrators), not on those individual students for them to recognize this," she said. "That’s something that, as adults, that we have a responsibility to do. We apologize for what occurred, it was racially insensitive, and we are committed to doing better for our students and their families.”

Caracciolo said the DEI training is all the more important because of how quickly the demographics of Forsyth County students are changing.

“Next year we expect to be a majority-minority school system," she said. "We have a lot of change going on, and so we just want to be able to make sure that everyone feels included and everyone’s welcomed.”

Read the principal's full letter:

Dear VCMS Parents/Guardians, 

I am writing to you this evening about our drama production of last week, Sherlock Meets the Phantom. While our students did a fantastic job showcasing their many talents, there were parts of the play that were not appropriate at all. These parts were racially insensitive, particularly towards our African American students and families. I am truly sorry that this production was the one our students performed. It should have never been selected. For this is not who we are or what we are about at Vickery Creek. 

Our administrative team did not review the play beforehand and vet it. As the head of the school, I should have had such a process in place. For that, I am deeply sorry and do apologize to our students, families, and teachers. We are working with our district office to create guidelines and procedures to help ensure that a situation such as this never happens at Vickery Creek MS or any other FC school in the future. 

As you may know, as a school, we have been working with our staff and students in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion for the past two years. Clearly, we have much more work to do. I know this is not acceptable to you and it is not acceptable to me. Becoming more racially and culturally sensitive as a school will continue to be a major focus of my administrative team and staff as we work to build a much more sensitive and inclusive school community. 

Sincerely, 

Scott Feldkamp, Principal