Singer May Sue Over Ban

'Dangerous Precedent' At Schools, Polisar Says

January 04, 1991|By Dianne Williams Hayes | Dianne Williams Hayes,Staff writer

A singer and songwriter whose compositions have been banned from thecounty schools' curriculum could make educators face the music in court.

Barry Louis Polisar, who had performed in county schools for 15 years, says he may sue the school system because no one told him why his work is no longer acceptable.

The ban, he says, has also cost him work in other school systems.

Polisar pens and performs ditties such as "Don't Stick Your Finger Up Your Nose," "Never Cook Your Sister in a Frying Pan" and "I Can Do Anything I Want to When Grandma and Grandpa Come." He has entertained elementary school audiences nationwide, including shows at the Smithsonian Institution and Kennedy Center. His composition "I Got a Dog His Name is Cat" has been recorded and performed on "Sesame Street."

Stickers on Polisar's tapes and books offer a tongue-in-cheek warning that has proven clairvoyant: "Songs on this recording may offend some adults, children are advised to use discretion when exposing these songs to grown-ups. Exposure may result in a sense of humor."

Acting on a request from elementary school staff, the school system's review committee found the songs unacceptable and in September blocked his tapes, records and six books from being added to the curriculum.

Polisar met with his lawyer, Frank Morgan, in Baltimore yesterday and said later that he is considering legal action to protect other performers from what he described as a "ban because of personal taste."

"I'm fighting because I think it's ridiculous that in this day and age people are getting offended about this kind of song," Polisar said. "It would be different if it was something that I did thatwas offensive.

"It sets a dangerous precedent if school systems begin to ban material just because they don't like it. If that had been the case we would never have rhymes such as (Three Blind Mice), where the farmer's wife cut off its tail with a carving knife.

"It'san issue of free speech. It would be different if it was a matter ofraunchy songs. What I am singing about is just playful."

P. Tyson Bennett, legal counsel for the school system, said Polisar has not been banned.

"We've tried to lower the volume a little on this thing," Bennett said. "We're trying to work with Polisar and his lawyer by providing them with some information and still more.

"He hasn't been banned, from our position. The curriculum review committee determined that his material, along with some others, is not appropriate for inclusion in the curriculum. The committee didn't feel it was suitable for students at that level.

"There is some uncertainty about whether he can or can't perform. Our position is that if a PTA (Parent Teacher Association) wanted to bring him in, he could perform."

Morgan said yesterday that he has been writing to school officials since October requesting documentation on the review committee's decision.

"We are looking for a complete reversal of their position based on the fact that there is nothing inappropriate about his work," Morgan said. "I have made the proper overtures to have them provide documentation for their decision. Time is passing and we haven't been told anything."

Morgan said a decision about the lawsuit will be made next week.

Dennis Younger, the school system's executive director of curriculum, said Polisar's materials may be reconsidered at his request or that of someone within the school system. However, Polisar said there is little point in the same committee conducting a secondreview.

"I would love to have my work reviewed, but by another committee," Polisar said. "It should be a language arts committee or librarians or anybody who has some knowledge of what my work is about. Bruce Horner (county coordinator of music) said it is not the right kind of music, but what I am doing in my songs is primarily literary, using irony and satire, and he missed the point."

Polisar, 36, a University of Maryland literature graduate, has been singing songs to schoolchildren since 1975.

In 1989, Polisar had his first encounter with the county's music curriculum review committee after a librarian wanted to stock his materials. The tapes and records were found inappropriate.

But he said the ban expanded county-wide after the county's Commission on Culture and the Arts pulled him from the annual performers showcase, which gives approved performers exposure in order to arrange engagements in schools.

"I had performed a number of times in previous years," he said. "They notified me in August in a letter and phone call that I would not be allowed to perform based on the music review committee. I was withdrawn from the showcase, and that completed the ban.

"My lawyer and I have written and called the Board of Education and their lawyer and we received no response. We are trying to appeal this without going to court. It almost seems like they want to go to court. I guess they have the money to spend in litigation."

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