The Civil War Ball is still on for Friday at Ranchos Middle School in Madera County despite at least one parent asking the school district to rethink the event.
Vicki Snowden-Jackson, the parent of a sixth-grade student, said she was appalled to learn of the dance and wants the district to reconsider it before her son starts middle school. Jackson, an African American woman, said it’s a culturally insensitive way to teach the Civil War.
But Golden Valley Unified Superintendent Andy Alvarado supports the event, calling it an opportunity to teach about controversial topics from the past.
"In no way, shape, or form are we having the students perform skits or acts that are culturally insensitive," Alvarado said Wednesday.
"Students must learn all sides of an issue and we must allow them to apply that knowledge and make their own decisions about how they feel," Alvarado said. "It's important for them to engage in meaningful conversations, on these types of issues, in an environment that is safe and respectful."
The ball, which started in 2000 and attracts around 500 people, is the culmination of one of the most memorable cross-curricular projects in the district aimed at teaching eighth-grade students about the Civil War across all classes, Alvarado said.
For example, students research the war and what it meant in American history. They learn about Civil War inventors in science class, about the period literature in English class and learn the waltz in physical education, he said.
Students dress in period costume and perform the dance at the event. For extra credit, they can research recipes and prepare food of the era to share. Fried chicken is one of several suggestions, he said.
The superintendent said the ball has not been a problem before. If issues came up, it has typically been handled at the school with options for teachers to come up with alternative assignments if needed. The district is not opposed to reviewing the project.
But Alvarado said "this aligns with our academic standards and meeting standards with our board. It's a time in history when things definitely occurred that no one is proud of. It's not about glorifying that."