The cancellation by the school district this past January of a comedy benefit concert at Santa Monica High School’s Barnum Hall on the same day it was supposed to take place, prompted a lot of concerns about the use of District facilities. The District responded to their concerns by hosting a forum to get community input on modifying its District Facilities Permit Policy to avoid future problems.Ralph Mechur who is the President of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s Board of Education told the Mirror that the benefit had been cancelled due to controversy over the type of comedy that one of the benefit headliners, Carlos Mencia, does. Mechur explained that some find Mencia’s stand-up routines which focus on race, politics, class, and society to be demeaning, abrasive, and abusive. Such routines, according to the District’s current regulations, are not considered appropriate for performance in District Facilities.Forum moderator Sylvia Rousseau who is a former Samohi principal noted at the March 28 forum that District facility use is really a “moral dilemma” and an “issue of equity and understanding, along with other legal and constitutional responsibility.” A diversified panel then presented their views on the issue. Attorney Michael Klein noted that the cancellation of the performance should be viewed in the context of our Constitution’s first amendment which guarantees freedom of speech. The performance was cancelled because people disagreed with the view of the speaker. In effect, the PTA who organized the event or Mencia, could have sued the District.Daryl Goode, who is the President of the Santa Monica and Venice NAACP, supported the event being cancelled by stating, “Words could cause collateral damage to some in the audience or could incite them in some way.”Carey Upton, who is the district’s director of theater operations and facility permits, explained that the District issues permits to over about 400 groups per year. Ten percent of these permits are issued to commercial users but 90 percent are issued to groups who get some sort of discount. Those who request permits are the PTAs, the Santa Monica-Malibu Education Foundation, groups that work with children, and non-profits. He hopes the changes made will help the District end up with a “really fair and equitable policy.”Forum participants broke into groups to discuss the issue. Common themes that emerged from the groups regarding the issuance of permits were that there should be very specific criteria for granting permits as well as equity and fairness when deciding who should receive a permit.The School Board will discuss a modified Facility Permit Policy, which includes input from the forum, at their May 7 Board meeting and will approve a revised policy at their May 21 meeting. The changed policy will be implemented starting on July 1.
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