CEDAR RAPIDS — The girls of Prairie High’s Ambassadors show choir exited the stage and left the boys, wearing suits with flag pins on their lapels, alone to sing and dance to Chicago’s 1977 song “Vote for Me.”
“I want the nomination for the presidency,” they sang, while the girls changed costumes backstage Saturday at the Supernova show choir invitational at Linn-Mar High School.
In the audience, newly elected Cedar Rapids school board member Jen Neumann was in disbelief.
The girls soon returned, dressed in sequined pantsuits, to perform modern girl-power anthems “Run the World (Girls)” by Beyonce and “Confidence” by Demi Lovato.
Neumann, in a since-deleted tweet, called the show sexist, writing that “apparently the #patriarchy is alive and well. #disgusting.”
In an interview, Neumann, 46, said she regrets the tweet and its impact on students at Prairie High, which is part of the College Community School District.
“I had what I consider to be a visceral reaction to something that’s a subject that’s important to me,” she said, referring to gender equity in politics. “I really had an emotional reaction and just acted without thinking.”
In a statement, the College Community district said it was “unfortunate” that Neumann shared her views publicly before discussing the show’s intended vision with Prairie.
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“We don’t believe that this is the opinion or preferred approach of the Cedar Rapids Community School District, its employees or public officials,” said the College Community district, located just south of the Cedar Rapids district.
“We are extremely proud of our fine arts programs. Artistic interpretation is part of the learning process and we will continue to engage students in relevant performance content.”
Newly elected Cedar Rapids school board members are given information about social media use and communication, district spokeswoman Akwi Nji said, though statements made by board members outside of in-session meetings are not considered official by the district. The exception, Nji said, are some comments made by the board president — currently Nancy Humbles — who can act as a spokeswoman for the board.
Prairie show choir Director Justin Sands said the boys’ “Vote for Me” performance was meant to be “tongue in cheek.”
“We didn’t alter the arrangement,” he said. “So we didn’t make it something it wasn’t already.”
It’s the fourth number in the Ambassadors’ show, coming after several songs with patriotic themes, including “America the Beautiful,” “Route 66” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “America.”
The all-girl number, Sands said, was meant to have a message of female empowerment.
“Politicians don’t wear sequined pantsuits,” he said. “But they do wear pantsuits.”
Supernova was the Ambassadors’ first competition of the season. After debuting the show to Prairie High last month, Sands said he hadn’t heard any substantial criticism of its content.
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He and Neumann spoke over the phone Tuesday morning, he said, and Neumann apologized for her comments and sent a note to his students.
“My biggest regret is that the kids felt disrespected,” she told The Gazette. “Honestly, their performance was great. Their vocals gave me goose bumps.”
Sands said he talked with students about responsible use of social media. They did not discuss issues of gender equity and he said there aren’t plans to substantially change the show.
Gender equity in politics “is kind of my die-on-the-sword issue, and while I hope a conversation is had about it, this just was not the way to elevate the conversation,” Neumann said this week. “What happens when you feel like you’ve been criticized unfairly? You dig in. It could have been something that was a uniting discourse and instead it was divisive. I own my role in that.”
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