I have both personal and research-based experience on this topic.
On the personal front, when I taught at an urban middle school in the Southwest, my principal perused- not read- my selections for one year (the first year of the program), and then never asked again. Her belief was that after we did a full slate of shows for one year, we would have the wider community's support and- aside from the few people who would always want to complain about something- we would never have any issues. She was an outstanding judge of our community, and her input was solid. We had no issues with show selection at all.
When I was contracted as an after-school director for a rural district in the Midwest, everything was scrutinized. There were definite boundaries in the shows I could produce, and administrators read scripts before shows were announced.
About 10 years ago, I built a research model to address questions around show selection processes in secondary schools. After piloting a survey about individual thoughts on show selection and school and district level approval processes, I sent the surveys out to every middle and high school in one Midwestern state. About 44% of the surveys were returned (generally, researchers look for a return of about 30% to consider the results valid) and of those, a good number said they would be happy to discuss the topic further via email or phone. A LOT of school directors wanted to talk about this.Some of my findings for this ONE STATE were:
In schools that taught theatre/drama and had a dedicated teacher/director, rural and suburban schools were most likely to have a protocol for show approval, though well-established suburban programs reported more flexibility in the type of content they were allowed to produce under their protocols. Urban programs seemed to have less oversight, but proportionally, fewer urban schools taught theatre and produced shows than their suburban and rural counterparts. The exception to the dearth of urban schools teaching drama were arts magnet schools which reported little no no oversight in show selection processes. When schools in this category (taught theatre and produced shows) had approval processes they varied widely from the teacher only having to submit the names of the shows to the principal to having to submit a full script to an administrative team for a reading before approval and potentially meeting with that committee to discuss the selection. Directors reporting that they could not produce shows after going through the process said that shows were rejected because of: sexual themes, language, or a more general header of 'not meeting community standards.' This phrase was used as a catch-all sorts of content including religious and political themes.
In schools that contracted a core subject area teacher to direct an after-school show, selection process oversight was lessened. In this category, many directors took on the attitude of preferring to apologize after producing a 'questionable show' than begging permission before the fact (and a few noted that if they got into trouble with a show, they were losing an after school program stipend, not their job.) Rural schools were most likely to have this structure and often only produced one show per year. There was also high personnel turnover in this category. While a few schools had a teacher who held the position year after year, more reported a teacher having the position for a year or two and then passing it on to someone else.
Schools that contracted their direction out to non-school personnel were more likely to have approval protocols- possibly because of a lack of trust with the contractors, especially in their first years of service to a school or district. In these cases administrators reading plays for approval was most common, and directors reported that they often, of their own accord, would go to administrators with approval questions even if there wasn't a hard-and-fast approval process. A note here: Because finding the directors to survey in this type of situation was more difficult t (personnel is more transient), there were fewer respondents overall. The data is likely less accurate.
What really stood out beyond the above summations was that, as directors, we tend to (and admit to) doing a lot of self-censoring in our show selection process whether or not there was a school or district protocol in place. There were many comments about how we look at 'community standards'- and sometimes in ways that may not be overly beneficial. Many lamented that there were shows that would be good for their kids' development or that they simply wanted to stage that they would pull out of the running because they feared community response (and not in terms of ticket sales- it was in terms of content backlash). In some cases, the self-censorship based on content occurred even before more generic considerations (cast size, gender breakdowns, production space, ability level, etc.) One teacher even comment that she wouldn't consider certain shows because she knew her principal didn't like them.
Again, this just covered one state in a particular geographic area. It is also over 10 years old at this point. It would be interesting to do this again in the current political climate- and since there have been a few high profile cases where teachers have very publicly been dismissed for doing shows that were- later- deemed to be outside the bounds of community mores.
Sorry for the long post.