SHERMAN, Texas (KXAN) — A group of high school student actors will not be allowed their cast roles after a decision by the Sherman ISD school board just two weeks after auditions, according to reporting by Dallas NBC station KXAS.
The decision, summarized, requires a student’s genitals at birth to match those of whichever fictional character they were cast as in the school’s production of Oscar Hammerstein II’s 1943 musical “Oklahoma!”
In a longer statement, Sherman ISD said it took action after a review of the script found content that it claims to be too mature for high school students: “mature adult themes, profane language, and sexual content.”
“The public performance of a high school musical requires the consideration and balance of a variety of factors given the fact that it is a production by students, the majority of whom are underage,” the statement reads. “Unfortunately, all aspects of the production need to be reviewed, including content, stage production/props, and casting to ensure that the production is appropriate for the high school stage.”
KXAN asked the district to provide specifics about objectional content in the script, and what the review process will entail, but it declined to comment further.
Targeting a single student?
Some opponents of the decision contend that the decision was made to target a transgender student, Max Hightower, who was cast in a leading role as fictional cowboy Curly McLain.
Speaking with KXAS, Max’s father Phillip Hightower said that the decision “was devastating.”
“It struck me as kind of odd because it’s ‘Oklahoma!’ Maybe I saw the abridged version, but it’s not ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’,” Hightower said.
The decision also took roles from other students, KXAS reported.
Parents opposed to the decision tell KXAN that they plan to be at the Sherman ISD board meeting on November 13. This comes after a petition to reinstate the roles was ignored by the board, according to a district parent.
“I’m not an activist. I’m not highly political. I have both liberal and conservative beliefs. I’m just a dad that wants to fight for his kid,” Hightower said. “I’m not going to quit advocating for my son – ever. Max has shown me what real strength is.”
Hightower told KXAS that his family has been comforted by how the community reacted to the situation.
“The outpouring of love and support was something like I’d never seen before. I didn’t see any hate in any of that,” Hightower said to KXAS.
KXAN has asked the district for a response to that allegation, but it declined to comment.
‘There is no policy’
The ISD’s statement said that this action does not constitute a new district policy. Such a blanket policy likely would not meet the U.S. Supreme Court’s strict scrutiny requirement nor be “narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling interest” — a requirement designed to protect Americans’ constitutional rights.
However, Hightower said that the district’s statement didn’t line up with an explanation he received from Sherman High principal Scott Johnston.
“[He] said we’re instituting a new policy where only males can play males, and only females can play females,” Hightower said to KXAS.
KXAN asked the district why it made the decision, and why it is declining to make a policy for future theater productions, but it declined to comment.
“Because the nature and subject matter of productions vary, the District is not inclined to apply this criteria to all future productions,” the statement reads.
As such, the situation could repeat again, and may create a chilling effect on future productions.