Longview and Kalama schools Thursday canceled plans to send students to an anti-bullying event next week with Peter Yarrow, citing concerns about the pop star’s 1970 conviction for taking indecent liberties with a 14-year-old girl.
Gian Paul Morelli, executive director for the Columbia Theatre, said he hadn’t yet heard from the Rainier School district, but he decided to cancel the event, which was scheduled to take place at the theater in downtown Longview.
Yarrow’s Friday night concert is still scheduled at the Columbia as before, and Morelli said he still expects it to be a success.
Morelli said he is “saddened” by the cancellation and feels area students will miss out on a “wonderful opportunity,” referring to Operation Respect, Yarrow’s nonprofit that brings music and anti-bullying messages to schools across the world.
“If you went on the website, if you saw what (OR) is all about ... it is a wonderful opportunity to develop the skills to encourage respectful behavior. It’s something that we could all use and our schools could use,” Morelli said. “You couldn’t find a more stellar group of educators who endorse this project and are bringing it right to Longview with the founder.”
Morelli said the theater “wasn’t unaware” of Yarrow’s sex offense but that it was not germane to his appearance in Longview. He said he and the theater staff were more focused on the work OR has done in schools.
Rick Parrish, a spokesman for the Longview district, said the district was unaware of Yarrow’s conviction until late Wednesday afternoon.
“Our goal with the event was to allow students to hear a legendary musician play music, while talking about the importance of not bullying,” Longview Public Schools Superintendent Dan Zorn said in a press release. “Even though the conviction dates back to 1970, we think it’s best for our kids to not be involved in the event.”
Yarrow, now 80, was a member of the trio known as Peter, Paul and Mary, which achieved international acclaim in the 1960s with pop hits such as “Puff the Magic Dragon” and “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
However, in 1970, when he was 32, he was charged with and convicted of taking indecent liberties with a then 14-year-old girl who had sought his autograph. He served three months in prison for the offense and was pardoned in 1981 by former president Jimmy Carter on his last day in office.
Tony Arancia, a spokesman for Yarrow, said he was aware the theater received a call about the concerns, but that he and Yarrow generally don’t comment on the conviction anymore, feeling that Yarrow has done his part to make up for it.