Jordan School District changes policy after 'Dead Man Walking' complaints

Published: Thursday, Aug. 30 2012 12:28 p.m. MDT

Gayle Ruzicka, President of Utah Eagle Forum, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Responding to backlash over a Bingham High School production of "Dead Man Walking," the Jordan School Board on Tuesday voted to revise the district's policy on approving drama productions. The Utah Eagle Forum raised objections to the content and subject matter of the play.

Tom Smart, Deseret News archives

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SOUTH JORDAN — Responding to backlash over a Bingham High School production of "Dead Man Walking," the Jordan School Board on Tuesday voted to revise the district's policy on approving drama productions.

The number of parent positions on drama production committees was increased to four at the school level and five at the district level, district spokeswoman Sandra Riesgraf said.

Students must also have signed parental permission slips to participate, and drama teachers must submit a form to the district two months before a performance for plays that are not on a district-approved list.

Riesgraf said the board wanted to preserve teachers' ability to select plays for their students but also felt that the concerns raised by members of the community needed to be addressed.

"They would be remiss if they didn't take a look at the policy," she said. "They feel strongly that they should respect the process that drama teachers are qualified to choose the plays."

The Bingham High production came under fire in May when the Utah Eagle Forum, a conservative lobbying group, raised objections to the content and subject matter of "Dead Man Walking." The group requested an apology from the district and suggested that more parental and community involvement was necessary in the play selection process.

Students who appeared in Bingham's production were given the option of altering or omitting any lines of dialogue with which they felt uncomfortable. Prior to the Eagle Forum's involvement, the district had received just one complaint from a parent who had seen the play.

Reisgraf said the policy changes are designed to make sure parents are informed about productions and address potential concerns prior to performances. Drama teachers also have been encouraged to bring the issue back to the board in the future if they are not satisfied with the changes, she said.

"Policies are revised all the time, and they are not against revising this one again if they see fit," Reisgraf said.

Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka said she'd still like to see a statement from the district apologizing for the "Dead Man Walking," as well as future policy changes that would prohibit productions that contain offensive language and content.

But Ruzicka said the new policy is a move in the right direction and could make a difference if handled well by schools.

"I'm very pleased that they made the changes," she said. "I'm glad to see the district respond so positively to the concerns of parents."

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com

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