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Hot-button policy issues are entwined in a Bronx school's play

In next week’s staging of “Guys and Dolls” at South Bronx Prep, the role of Nathan Detroit will be played by the understudy.

That’s because the theater teacher’s first choice to play Detroit was recently tossed from the charter school, according to the teacher, Kate Quarfordt. Among several vignettes from the lead-up to the play that Quarfordt describes in the Community section today is one that offers a nuanced view into a controversial aspects of charter schools: their ability to expel troublesome students.

Quarfordt writes:

The expulsion hearing for the young man who plays Nathan is emotionally devastating. All 10 people in the room are openly weeping pretty much the whole time, including the principal and the head of school, the teachers who have come to testify on the student’s behalf, the student’s mother, and the student himself.

In a heart-rending apology delivered with shaking hands and quavering voice, the young man admits that he’d gone against his instincts and committed an illegal action on a school trip in an effort to impress one of his alpha-dog friends who had challenged him to do something he knew was wrong.

His other teachers and I speak, each one us acknowledging this student’s otherwise stellar record of community service and school spirit. We wrestle with the excruciating clash between the value of zero-tolerance tough-love and the importance of judging young people’s actions with flexibility and nuance.

When the verdict is announced and the young man is asked to clean out his locker, his mother collapses with grief.

I’m late to rehearsal because I can’t stop crying.

Quarfordt is chronicling the run up to the play, which will be staged May 24-26, in three parts. Read the first and the second. The third will appear next week.

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