Queens Students Use Ancient Greek Play to Criticize Outgoing Schools Chancellor

Queens school officials banned a student play this month out of fear that it was too critical of outgoing Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and Mayor Bloomberg.

The Jamaica High School and Queens Collegiate students wrote the play after reading the Greek tragedy Antigone in a course called The Actors Studio, taught at Queensborough Community College.

The play paints a picture of unequal treatment at the two schools, which share one building. Collegiate is a new and growing school, while the Education Department is trying to close Jamaica for poor performance.

Instructor Brian Pickett received an email the day before the performance that principals at both schools had decided to ban it.

They both had issues with the script and are concerned about implications and negative references to the [Education Department] as well as the chancellor and mayor, the email stated.

The students wrote their play after reading Antigone, in which King Creon decrees that one of Antigones brothers will receive a proper burial, while the other is left out for the birds to feed on.

They also read The Island, a play about two political prisoners who stage Antigone to protest apartheid in South Africa.

The students dubbed their production Declassified, Struggle for Existence: We Used to Eat Lunch Together. Klein takes the place of King Creon, and Antigone and her sister are students at the two schools.

We were shocked, said Bibi McKenzie, 15, a junior at Jamaica, who was in the class. They didnt give us a chance. They said it would cause problems, but students from both schools wrote the script.

Pickett said that after the class read Antigone, he urged students to relate it to current issues. The planned school closing came up repeatedly, as did the difference in resources given to each school.

Students also discussed Collegiates reputation as the privileged school and Jamaica as the failing school, and how that affected the way students viewed one another.

There were no big arguments in class, said Pickett. We created an alternative to that competitive or contentious environment that existed in the relationship between the two schools.

Neither principal could be reached during the holiday week, and the Education Department declined to comment.

In a letter to Klein and Bloomberg last week, Student Press Law Center director Frank LoMonte wrote, It is difficult to think of a more educationally and civically unsound action that a principal could take than to order students to refrain from speaking out on a matter of public concern regarding the quality of education they are receiving.

I felt it was discriminatory, said Jamaica senior Afsan Quayyum, 18. I had a lot of hope about this play. I wanted everyone to know what we face in the school every day. It was our story.


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