PTA hosts controversial show

Published 9:11 pm Monday, June 1, 2015

When the Suffolk PTA Council held its annual dinner on Thursday, the topic of conversation for many centered not so much on the honorees as on the entertainment.

Most in attendance at Creekside Elementary School seemed impressed by the technical ability of step-dancing team KAOSS Entertainment, composed of middle and elementary school students, though independent of Suffolk Public Schools.

But some were left wondering why the group, whose name stands for Kids Always on the Same Step, was allowed to focus at such an event on such a controversial topic.

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Suffolk PTA/PTSA Council President Leila C. Baccouche, who approved the group to perform, characterized the theme as a protest against police brutality.

The performance incorporated the “hands up, don’t shoot” phrase and gesture used by protestors in Ferguson, Mo., after the police shooting of Michael Brown in August.

The U.S. Justice Department has concluded Brown did not use the phrase or gesture, and criminal charges were not filed against the police officer in the shooting, Darren Wilson.

During their performance, the KAOSS students also called out names of youths recently shot by police.

School Board member Linda Bouchard said she didn’t think it was an appropriate topic for the event. “I don’t think (the presentation) expressed the overall feeling” of Suffolk Public Schools, she said, while it was presented to suggest that it did.

“Frankly, I don’t think that such a controversial situation should be paraded out there as if it’s something that represents all of us, because it doesn’t.”

She said the Baltimore riots appalled her. “You talk about a conviction with no trial — that situation is totally appalling,” she said.

But the KAOSS students’ athleticism and synchronization were “simply outstanding,” Bouchard said. “I wish that they could have performed at that level with a topic that expressed something that reflected all of us.”

While the performance was technically “polished,” the theme “may not have been proper for the event,” the board’s David Mitnick said.

“I’m just speaking for myself,” Mitnick added. “I don’t think they were sensitive to any public safety officers that might have been present.”

Other School Board members were less concerned. Judith Brooks-Buck noted the students did not refer to Officer Wilson by name. “There have been demonstrations all over the country that have that same focus,” she said.

“There was no particular emphasis on any particular officer anywhere in the country. My applauding for students had nothing to do with the topic; it had to do with they were a precision step team and they did an excellent job.”

Lorraine Skeeter said she “had no problem with it,” indicating the subject matter was justified “because it’s an issue of the day.”

“I know they were reminding us of what’s happened recently in the nation. I had no problem. They danced very well,” she said.

Baccouche said the theme of the PTA event was “The world would be a better place if …,” and she added as answers to that rhetorical question, “(there was) more compassion, more understanding, more communication.”

“Then maybe less of these sorts of events would occur,” she said, referring to the police shootings.

KAOSS founder, coach and president Jamall A. Evans emailed Baccouche to thank her “for allowing us to perform our theme unrestricted.”

“I respect your stance as a PTA president being diplomatic but also taking time to confide in me your allegiance to the movement and cause for systemic reform,” Evans wrote.

He stated that he would address the concerns some had at his next forum with KAOSS members “to continue to add depth to their journey with our theme and displays of artistic resistance.”

They weren’t out to demonize police, according to Evans, but to create opportunities for discussion and reform.

“We have team parents that actively serve as lieutenants in the local police force who understand our stance and have agreed to assisting us in addressing these in support of our ambitions,” he stated.