Sherman ISD superintendent Tyson Bennett suspended

The Sherman ISD Board of Trustees has voted to suspend the district’s superintendent, Tyson Bennett, pictured, as the investigation into the controversy over Bennett’s decision to cancel a school play and ban trans student Max Hightower from playing a male role.

The Sherman Independent School District Board of Trustees, following a closed session meeting on Friday, March 8, has voted to suspend Superintendent Tyson Bennett. Meghan Cone, the school district’s chief communications officer, confirmed today (Tuesday, March 12) that Bennett was suspended in connection with the investigation into Bennett’s efforts to remove transgender senior Max Hightower from the school’s production of Oklahoma! Cone said the SISD board had not made nor provided a statement following the vote.

Philip Hightower, Max’s father, said today he is “thrilled that the board made the right decision to protect our kids from discrimination. I’m thrilled Max and the rest can be safe, and I’m proud that our community united and said no to transphobia.”

The board suspended Bennett with pay and appointed Deputy Superintendent Thomas O’Neal as acting superintendent, effective immediately.

Gordy Carmona, North Texas community engagement and advocacy strategist for Equality Texas, was among those who spoke at the November board meeting where SISD trustees reversed Bennett’s decision to cancel and recast the play. “Hearing Sherman ISD’s decision to recast the Oklahoma! production last year based on a district rule barring students from playing roles that didn’t match their gender assigned at birth was alarming,” Carmona told Dallas Voice today. “Theatre is supposed to be one of the few safe havens for LGBTQIA+ students.

“Thankfully Sherman ISD listened to students, parents and community members concerns,” they continued, “Their reinstatement of the original cast was the first step in correcting some concerning problems within the district. News of the unanimous decision to suspend Superintendent Tyson Bennett was a welcomed surprise, but there is still room for growth in ensuring current and future LGBTQIA+ students can feel fully supported by their district.”

The controversy over the high school play began last October when the high school principal, at Bennett’s direction, contacted parents and students to tell them the planned production was being cancelled. That notification came after Max Hightower was cast in the male role of Aly Hakim, a major character in the play. Several female students were cast in male roles, as well.

In a confusing statement issued Nov. 6, district officials explained that Sherman ISD had no policy regarding how students are cast, except in this one instance and maybe in the future, but then again maybe not: “There is no policy on how students are assigned to roles. As it relates to this particular production, the sex of the role as identified in the script will be used when casting.” A second statement, issued by the district on Nov. 10 supposedly was intended to clear up confusion but really only muddied the waters further.

Bennett’s decision was that for the production to go on after the first of the year, later than originally planned, the show would have to be recast, and he wanted the school’s theater teachers to instead stage a version of the play rewritten for younger students.

But following a marathon board meeting later that month, in which dozens of parents, students and other community members turned out to criticize Bennett and his directives, the Sherman ISD board voted to rescind the directives completely and allow the production to go on as originally cast. The board at that time also removed Bennett’s authority over the school’s fine arts programs and announced an ongoing investigation into the situation.

Sherman High School staged its production of Oklahoma! in January with the original cast, including Max Hightower, in place.

— Tammye Nash