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Jordan Schools Change Theater Policy After "Dead Man Walking" Controversy

A new policy in the Jordan School District calls for parents to play a larger roll in choosing the plays students can perform. The Jordan School Board voted Tuesday evening to make the change, despite concerns from educators.

Joshua Long is helping one of his students rehearse a monologue the student will perform at his audition Thursday for the Hillcrest High School Shakespeare Competition Team. Long is a theater arts instructor at Hillcrest.  He is not an employee of the Jordan School District but he is the president elect of the Utah Advisory Council of Theater Teachers. Long says theatre educators should be trusted to pick plays appropriate for students to perform.

“I’m worried now for the teachers in the Jordan school district that these committees where the teacher and the principal have all these voices of parents basically telling them what their curriculum is going to be," Long says. "I don’t know of any other precident, any other area in the public school system in which parents have a larger say than the teacher and their curriculum and what is taught.”

The new policy in the Jordan School District mandates that more parents be involved in the districts’ Drama Production Selection Committee than was originally required. Plays must be approved at least two months prior to the production. Students will now need parental consent before participating in any play. The changes are motivated by a campaign from the Utah Eagle Forum last Spring when  Bingham High performed “Dead Man Walking.” The conservative group took issue with the plays portrayal of rape and capital punishment.

Long says appropriate standards vary from person to person and adding more parents to the decision making process could invoke negative feelings about all kinds of plays.

“Anything between Once Upon a Mattress and the Laramie project, depending on who you’re talking to could fall in that," Long says. "And the policy doesn’t define what that means.”

Anthony Godfrey, Administrator of Schools at Jordan School District says there are good safeguards in place with this new policy.

“So you have general input from parents in the community on that committee as the production is selected," Godfrey says. "Once a production is chosen that doesn’t mean that that eliminates all possibility for controversy. That disclosure statement allows for individual families to also make a decision about whether their student participates in a production or not.”

Godfrey says administrators will meet with teachers periodically to find out if any changes need to be made in the future to the play selection policy.  

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