Principal who loves Iron Maiden nearly forced out of school
Schools like to make a mark and small cities love international attention, but it isn't always appreciated when it comes — such as the odd tempest over an Ontario high school principal whose enthusiasm for a heavy metal rock band angered parents of “impressionable children.”
A public campaign to oust the head of Eden High School in St. Catharines after Instagram photos revealed her fondness for the dark imagery of Iron Maiden, followed by an outpouring of support, spun into a worldwide phenomenon this week, rekindling the Satanic panic of the 1980s.
“I'm surprised that it blew up in the way that it did,” said St. Catharines city councillor Karrie Porter. “It is funny, silly, and frustrating all at the same time.”
It didn't take long for the dispute to travel from the Niagara region across social media, talk radio, newspapers and beyond; from New York to Kuala Lumpur; shared by politicians and rock bands.
It began, as it does these days, with social media.
Sharon Burns, principal of Eden, posted two photos on her Instagram account showing her fandom for the legendary British heavy metal band almost as famous for its imagery as for its music.
One photo shows her with Iron Maiden regalia and a personalized licence plate reading “IRNMADEN”, enthusiastically giving the horns-up hand sign of metal fans.
Another shows a doll of Eddie, the band's skeletal mascot, with a hand drawn sign of a heart around “666,” a number biblically associated with the devil that is used by the band in its marketing.
That was too much for some who wanted Burns thrown out of Eden.
“As concerned parents with impressionable children at Eden High School,” began an online petition for her ouster, “we are deeply disturbed that the principal assigned to the school blatantly showed Satanic symbols and her allegiance to Satanic practices on her public social media platforms where all the students can see them.”
A counter petition — called “We need Mrs. Burns” — was soon posted in response.
“It is ridiculous that a couple of parents only judge her role as a principal only based on an Instagram post,” the retort says. “She has made Eden a safe space for so many people. She spreads nothing but love and kindness.”
In terms of public support, the call for Burns' ouster was decimated. It garnered 553 supporters while the petition of support zoomed well past 20,000 after wide calls from students and fans of music and free speech. Apparently feeling heat from the backlash, the creator of the original petition added a defence before removing it altogether.
“Sharon knows full well what she did was simply inappropriate, unnecessary and not professional but has yet to publicly admit so and is willing to allow people to believe a completely different story, making very real concerns seem petty,” it said.
Burns declined an interview, forwarding a request from National Post to the school board's spokeswoman, who called the international attention a “unique experience.”
“As you can imagine, Principal Burns, like all of us, is quite surprised by how her Instagram post led to two petitions and grew to be a topic of interest around the world,” said Kim Sweeney, chief communications officer for the District School Board of Niagara.
“We know Ms Burns as a passionate and dedicated educator who is happiest when she can focus on and connect with her students.”
After the complaints were aired, the board spoke with Burns and the parents who published them, and the issue is over as far as the board is concerned, Sweeney said. No disciplinary action or policy changes were needed.
“Our belief is that taste in music is subjective and we support that both students and staff enjoy a wide variety of genres,” Sweeney said.
Even so, the two posts were removed.
Porter, the city councillor, said the dispute at Eden may be about more than Iron Maiden's imagery.
Burns doesn't look like every school principal. Some photos show her with purple hair, fluffed up in a fauxhawk style. And Eden doesn't have the same history as every school.
As the name suggests, Eden's root are in the Christian movement. Originally started as a Bible school by the Mennonite Brethren in the 1930s, it then became a private Christian school.
In 1988, it became a public school but retained the wearing of school uniforms. It still hosts privately funded afterschool Christian activities.
“I think that's why this happened at this particular school,” said Porter.
“It's now publicly funded and probably still some lingering tensions around the fact that the community is changing, and the school is changing. This is probably feeding into this issue.”
Popular music has long been a concern for some parents.
There is a long history of Satanic panic over emerging music, back to the blues, jazz and rock and roll each being decried as “the Devil's music.” Heavy metal bands, producing hard, guitar-heavy rock, embraced that reputation in the 1980s.
They wore it on their sleeve — record sleeves, in this case — featuring ghoulish images of reanimated corpses, fiery hellscapes and overt devil imagery.
The panic subsided as heavy metal's popularity waned and consternation moved on to rap music.
Burns' interest in rock remains and has not been fully muted. Her Twitter bio still includes: “Fueled by metal & ska.”
And her Instagram account, where the brouhaha began, remains, minus the controversial photos.
As for Iron Maiden, the renewed Satanic panic came just as they release a new album, the first in six years. It must seem like old times.