School Invites Students to Civil War Ball: 'This Aligns With Our Academic Standards'

Flags hang on grave markers at The Old Burying Ground, which has veterans from the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, in Berlin, MA. Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

A Civil War Ball scheduled for Friday at Ranchos Middle School in California's Madera County is being touted as a way for students to learn from the country's mistakes.

"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," Golden Valley Unified Superintendent Andy Alvarado said to The Fresno Bee.

In a flyer about the Civil War project, the school included the following in a list of possible activities to perform in order to earn points: attend the ball in formal attire, perform the waltz, perform a song from the time period and create original artwork including flags. Bringing food is optional, but suggestions include apple pies, raisin bread and fried chicken.

The superintendent told the outlet that "in no way, shape, or form are we having the students perform skits or acts that are culturally insensitive."

One parent, Vicki Snowden-Jackson, questioned the ball's appropriateness in a Fresno Bee story. "They're not holding celebrations when they teach World War II, and the Nazis threw parties then," Jackson said. "Why do it with one of the darkest times in American history?"

The parent said she has met with the superintendent and was told the district would create a committee for black parents as a way to talk about the dance.

The ball began in 2000. While there have been no complaints about past balls, the superintendent told The Fresno Bee that the district is open to reviewing it.

The school district fired back after The Fresno Bee's report, saying the Civil War unit and project was taken "out of context."

"The cross-curricular event originated as an opportunity to celebrate the end of the war and the saving of our great union at the hands of all the brave men and women, of all colors and racial orientation, who suffered and sacrificed for a greater future," said a Golden Valley Unified statement posted Wednesday on Facebook.

The statement underscored being culturally sensitive and that for The Fresno Bee to "isolate fried chicken" from the list of all its food options is "both inaccurate and a misrepresentation of the project."

"Students can then learn from the mistakes in history and apply their new understandings in a way to, hopefully, avoid the same mistakes in the future. If there are conversations which need to be had concerning this project, those conversations will be had in manner which reflects the best interest of our students," said the statement.

The post garnered a lot of support from members of the community as well as from parents who had their kids attend the ball.

One parent wrote: "Very well stated; if this student's parents don't want him to participate so be it. But it is a very good educational experience. My three grandchildren all participated and I personally hope the district does not cave to this pressure. We can't erase our past; history is what makes us who we are and we should use it as a tool to learn from. Please continue with this program. Don't let one person or even a small group eliminate this tradition."

Another parent wrote: "Yes! Thank you for standing behind this tradition and not bending to the critics. The civil war ball is educational AND memorable for all of us who have participated in the past 18 years. I'm excited for my kids to experience it in the future, too!"

Other schools have faced criticism recently over projects related to past history and appropriateness.

Students were told to list the "positive aspects"and "negative aspects" of slavery at a Texas charter school. The assignment was removed from its curriculum, and the teacher who assigned it was placed on leave. According to the school, the homework was taken from the textbook, which its manufacturer—Pearson—denies.