Jordan School District changes drama policy after flak over play

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 2:55 PM


SALT LAKE CITY— A backlash over a high-school performance of “Dead Man Walking” has prompted a Utah school district to give parents a greater role over student plays.

The conservative family-values group Utah Eagle Forum objected to the play at South Jordan’s Bingham High School last spring.

The Eagle Forum says “Dead Man Walking” — about a Catholic nun who counsels a death-row inmate in Louisiana — contained profanity, slurs and sexual language.

District officials said much of the profanity was stripped from the play and drama students were allowed to change their lines.

Nonetheless, the Jordan School Board revised its drama policy Tuesday night.

The board will require actors to get a parent’s permission slip and drama teachers to seek clearance for plays not on an approved list. It also will put more parents on a committee that selects plays.

“It brings everybody together to the table,” district spokeswoman Sandy Riesgraf told The Salt Lake Tribune.

Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka called the changes “a huge step in the right direction” but said the board or district should issue an apology and acknowledge the play was inappropriate for high-school students.

“I’m glad to see the district respond so positively to the concerns of parents,” she told the Deseret News.

Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, has said he also wants an apology from school officials.

Riesgraf said only one district patron complained about the show before the Eagle Forum voiced its displeasure.

Michael Woodruff, a senior who was in the play, said he didn’t see anything wrong with “Dead Man Walking” but thinks it’s a good idea to have parents sign off on their children’s participation.

“It discusses the complexity about an issue that usually no one really talks about,” Woodruff told The Tribune. “It evaluates both sides.”

The 1995 American drama film, directed by Tim Robbins from a book of the same name, was based on a true story that raised questions about the morality of the death penalty.

In the original drama, the nun tells the condemned man that redemption is possible only if he takes responsibility for killing a teenage couple. The man — played by actor Sean Penn — admits guilt for the first time just before his execution, appeals for forgiveness and expresses hope that his death brings the teens’ parents peace.

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