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Story originally printed in the La Crosse Tribune or online at

Viroqua administrator: ‘Little Mary Sunshine' controversy promted changes

By MATT JOHNSON / Lee Newspapers
VIROQUA, Wis. — School district officials here say much has changed since the "Little Mary Sunshine" controversy.

"The end result has been pretty doggone positive," said Viroqua School District Administrator David Johnston.

It all started in November 2003, when American Indian advocates, including a student group from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, protested Viroqua High School's plans to put on the musical. The play maligned American Indian with harsh caricatures, they said.

The district received protest calls from around the nation, Johnston said at the time.

Community groups sponsored moving the musical out of the school to the Temple Theatre. The first performance sold out, meaning an audience of about 570. More than 50 people protested outside.

"During the series of board meetings when this was an issue, we found out that this community can have a serious conversation about race and do it in a respectful manner," Johnston said.

It was a conversation that many other schools and communities are going to be having down the road, he said.

It raised the awareness of diversity in the community, Johnson said. "This has included, but isn't limited to, Native American issues."

Some changes in the district include adding a diversity theme to staff training and a newly sponsored student diversity group, he said.

And in the 2003-04 school year, Viroqua was the only public school district in

the state to host the one-act play "Kick," which addresses American Indian issues, he said. It was

performed by Delana Studi, the niece of screen actor Wes Studi ("Dances With Wolves," "Last of the Mohicans").

For more, see the Thursday edition of the Vernon County Broadcaster.

Matt Johnson is the editor of the Vernon County Broadcaster

All stories copyright 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 La Crosse Tribune and other attributed sources.

Seems like Johnston forgot to apologise.


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