Jordan District changes policy after 'Dead Man Walking'
In response to criticism over high school performances of "Dead Man Walking," the Jordan School Board has changed its policy on drama productions.
The board voted unanimously Tuesday night to revise the policy in several areas. Parents will now have to sign consent forms before their students may participate in plays. Also, more parents will now serve on the school and district committees that select which plays to produce. And drama teachers will now have to fill out forms about the shows they plan to stage and submit those forms to the district's curriculum department two months before productions, said Sandy Riesgraf, a district spokeswoman.
"It brings everybody together to the table," Riesgraf said of the changes.
The board began discussions on the topic earlier this summer after the conservative Utah Eagle Forum issued a news release condemning a spring production of "Dead Man Walking" at South Jordan's Bingham High. The group alleged the production was filled with profanity, sexual language, racial slurs, political bias and "inappropriate use of biblical teachings."
The play, based on the book by Sister Helen Prejean, is about a nun who counsels a killer before his execution.
In July, Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, also asked the board to apologize for the production and suggested that more parents be involved in the process of selecting shows. Riesgraf said only one district patron complained about the show before the Eagle Forum's news release.
Riesgraf said many swear words were removed from the script, and drama students were allowed to make other changes to the language if they felt uncomfortable.
Gayle Ruzicka, head of the Utah Eagle Forum, said Wednesday that she was pleased to hear about the changes, calling them, "a huge step in the right direction."
But she said she still thinks the school should issue a statement acknowledging that the play and its message were inappropriate. It's something the board discussed at a study session in July. But the board has not issued a formal apology and did not discuss it in open session Tuesday night, Riesgraf said.
Michael Woodruff, a senior who participated in the production, said he thinks it's smart to have parents sign consent forms, though better communication between parents and teens could also help. He said he didn't see anything wrong with producing the play in the first place. He said participating made him think more about the issues.
"It discusses the complexity about an issue that usually no one really talks about," Woodruff said. "It evaluates both sides."