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Headmistress Regrets Banning Her Pupils from ‘Romeo and Juliet’

January 20, 1994

LONDON (AP) _ A headmistress who objected to ″Romeo and Juliet″ because it was only about heterosexual love and portrayed gang violence said Thursday she regretted keeping her pupils from seeing or performing in the play.

Parents, school officials, newspapers and Prime Minister John Major had joined in the uproar against Jane Hardman-Brown, headmistress of Kingsmead primary school in London’s East End.

Ms. Brown refused to let her pupils take part in a production of Shakespeare’s classic and turned down a charitable foundation’s offer of tickets for her pupils to attend a ballet version at the Royal Opera House.

″I am dismayed at the distress I have caused to parents, staff and pupils by the unwelcome media attention which has focused on the school,″ Ms. Brown said in a written statement released after she met with local education officials.

She did not explain her objections to ″Romeo and Juliet.″

However, Gus John, Hackney’s director of education, said Ms. Brown was trying to apply school policies of giving children ″as balanced an approach to the curriculum as possible.″

″She was seeking to bring a series of ideological considerations to the content of the play and that was wholly inappropriate,″ John said. ″Among those questions was something like: Could it be considered that ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is a totally heterosexual story?″

Mark Lushington, associate secretary of the Hackney teachers’ association, said Ms. Brown was also concerned about what she felt was gang violence in Shakespeare’s play and how it would affect kids who see enough of that in their depressed neighborhood.

″The effect would be the same as watching ‘The Terminator’ - the next day they would club together and say, ’Remember what those Montagues did in the play last night? Let’s do that, too,‴ Lushington said.

He was referring to the fatal feud between the Capulets and the Montagues in the 16th century play.

But such concerns appeared to be a minority view.

Parents told reporters outside Kingsmead school it was stupid to prevent children from seeing a classic and the decision should have been left to them.

Sandra Curtis said her 8-year-old son, James, had wanted to go to the ballet.

″She is not considering the kids. She’s only considering what she feels, which I don’t think is fair,″ Mrs. Curtis said.

Pat Corrigan, education chairman for Hackney Borough Council, described Ms. Brown’s original decision as ″an act of ideological idiocy and cultural philistinism, betraying no knowledge either of great art or of equal opportunities.″

In the House of Commons, Prime Minister John Major said a ban on ″Romeo and Juliet″ would be unpopular among parents ″who want their children to be taught in schools the basics of English language, English history and all the things that will equip them for a proper adulthood.″

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