School superintendent reverses suspension for reading of ‘Vagina Monologues’

NEW YORK — A school superintendent rescinded on March 12 the in-school suspension of three students for using the word “vagina” at an open mic night event.

Hannah Levinson, Megan Reback and Elan Stahl, all 16-year-olds at John Jay High School in Cross River, N.Y., read an excerpt from Eve Ensler’s play, “The Vagina Monologues,” at an on-campus event sponsored by the school’s literary magazine, Reflections.

“The Vagina Monologues” is a popular collection of 200 testimonies from women about sex, womanhood and violence against women that was written by Ensler in 1996.

Immediately prior to the event, Reflections Adviser Paul Smith informed the administration of the performance’s content. School officials then told the students to not say “vagina” because they thought it would be “inappropriate” for the younger members of the audience, according to Assistant Principal Lisa Kor.

The controversial phrase from the play excerpt reads: “My short skirt is a liberation flag in the women’s army. I declare these streets, any streets, my vagina’s country.”

Kor said that had school officials been aware of the content before the day of the performance, a disclaimer could have been distributed to parents and the community. She said that the students were punished because they disobeyed the school’s request, not because of the performance’s content.

Kor said the surrounding area is a “very liberal community,” but the event “was just not a G-rated event.”

Another student performer at the event used profanity in her act, but was not punished because school officials did not know prior to the event and did not tell her to edit her content, Kor said.

Superintendent Bob Lichtenfeld postponed the students’ suspensions last week pending his “legal” reconsideration of the issue, according to Kor.

Lichtenfeld could not be reached before press time.

The students appeared with School Board President Peter Breslin and Ensler on NBC’s national morning news show “Today” on March 9 to discuss the issue.

The students chose to include the word to preserve the “integrity” of the performance, Stahl said on “Today.”

“It really upheld the message of the monologue, the moral integrity of the piece of literature and better represented women across the world,” Stahl said.

Kor said the students’ parents were contacted on March 13 about the repealed punishments. She said she could not disclose any further information because it deals with disciplinary action, but said she respects the actions of the superintendent.

“It’s about a 50-50 split in terms of community response,” Kor said. “I respect the right of the superintendent to do what he sees as best for the district.”

Ensler is scheduled to speak in the district about the importance of using the word “vagina” on March 28.

By Erica Hudock, SPLC staff writer