Pine Creek High School students on Monday protested last week's removal of the director of the school's award-winning theater program — reportedly over allegations of sexual misconduct.
Students also object to "censorship" of the musical revue set to make its debut in 10 days.
Some of the cast and crew of "Echo of Love," slated to run March 15-17, staged a sit-in Monday, refusing to rehearse after school and instead sitting on the stage with tape over their mouths.
"It's pretty disheartening that we have an administration that doesn't support a person we all look up to," said Tatum Graf, a senior who a lead role. "It's also a huge call to action because something has to be done. Something has to change."
Theater Director Carrie Barnhardt-Roberson has not returned to her job since Feb. 27, when Colorado Springs police began investigating accusations that she had an inappropriate relationship with a student, say students and parents.
"We are following the proper protocols, both internally and with local law enforcement, to better understand the facts of this situation," Academy School District 20 spokeswoman Allison Cortez said in a statement. Because it is a personnel matter, Cortez said, she could not "disclose any details of the situation."
The investigation remains active, said police spokesman Lt. Howard Black, who would not provide more information.
Ryan Maikell, a 17-year-old senior who says he is a subject of the investigation, denies having had any improper dealings with Barnhardt-Roberson.
"It was disgusting. I was not prepared for that to even be a thought in anyone's mind," Ryan said. "It's malicious."
He emailed students and parents early Monday, saying police asked him in an interview last week about having "an inappropriate sexual relationship" with the teacher.
"These accusations have no validity and were falsified by someone who has the intention of ruining the theater program BR has worked tirelessly to build, BR's reputation and BR's life," he wrote. Students call Barnhardt-Roberson "BR" for short.
Ryan said he doesn't know who made the accusations.
Barnhardt-Roberson, who won Colorado Theater Educator of the Year in 2008, did not respond to calls Monday.
Theater students plan another sit-in Tuesday and said they will display posters in the school parking lot Wednesday to raise student awareness of the controversy.
Students are calling for Barnhardt-Roberson to be reinstated and say they won't appear in the play if she doesn't, Ryan said.
"My hope is the entire cast and crew say we refuse to do it without BR," Tatum said.
The school's music director, Ruth Schubarth, has been serving as theater director in Barnhardt-Roberson's absence, students said.
Pine Creek Theatre is known for producing complex, difficult shows successfully. Its 2015 spring production of the Tony-nominated Broadway musical "Xanadu" was selected to perform on the main stage at the International Thespian Festival at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. At the time, Barnhardt-Roberson called it "the highest honor in high school theater."
Students also are calling for school officials to restore material removed from the current production.
"Echo of Love" combines original and existing songs with related scenes. Students came up with the idea after attending a musical theater workshop last August.
The show "shines a light on taboo topics that people don't want to talk about," Tatum said, including racism, sexual assault and eating disorders, and it promotes "unity and love."
Tatum said school leaders recently asked for a copy of the script and cut some dialogue referring to those issues.
"The administration has been trying to clandestinely shut it down," said Tatum's mom, Vanessa Graf. "It's certainly censorship in the community and maligning this beloved mentor. They've been trying to drive this teacher out because she's progressive in her thinking."
Pushback from administrators about the theater program started last spring, Tatum said, when students wanted to perform "Bare," the story of a homosexual couple at a Catholic school, one of whom commits suicide.
"It's very relevant, with the high teen suicide rate where we live, and it also covers drug abuse and not knowing how to deal with your sexual identity," Tatum said. "The administration said, 'No, you won't do this in our school.' It's been a bunch of different obstacles since then."