The Jordan Board of Education will review the district’s policy on selecting school plays after Bingham High School’s production of the drama “Dead Man Walking” last spring elicited outrage from parents and the Eagle Forum, a pro-family conservative activist group.
District spokesperson Steve Dunham told the Salt Lake Tribune that the board isn’t planning any major changes, but wants to ensure proper rules enforcement.
The Eagle Forum released a statement in June -- more than two months after the play debuted in March -- condemning the production. The group asserted that the play contained profanity, sexual language, violence, racial slurs, bigotry, political bias and “inappropriate use of Biblical teachings,” according to the Tribune. The statement also included five letters allegedly from concerned parents, though they lacked signatures.
“It’s an interesting situation when we have a Utah Attorney General who has asked the movie industry to please take smoking out of movies that are targeting the youth and yet right here in Utah on the stage at Bingham High School they were using fake cigarettes that looked real to the audience,” Utah Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka told the Cache Valley Daily.
Sandy Riesgraf, the district’s communications director, said that more than 700 parents and patrons saw the play and expressed overwhelming support.
Dalane England of the Eagle Forum said a petition is being circulated asking the school district to take “proper course” against employees who allowed the show to go on.
"I can’t imagine anyone wanting to put this play on. It is so dark," England told the Salt Lake Tribune, adding that she spoke to Bingham High students who were "horrified to see their friends on stage doing what they were doing" as they acted out the play.
According to Jordan’s selection policy, schools must secure approval from administrators at the district level, which Bingham High did. A committee of parents approved the play after electing to make a few edits to the script for language and content, Dunham said.
Students were told that additional edits were possible if they were uncomfortable with the language. Additionally, the play’s lead worked with parents and teachers to limit offensive language while preserving the authenticity of the character, Riesgraf said.
The play is based on a book written by Sister Helen Prejean. Based on a true story, it details her experience working with a murderer on death row.
In October, a Connecticut high school’s performance of a play involving a kiss between two male students caused several audience members to walk out, and some parents to excuse their kids from school for the day. One parent showed up to the school wielding a Bible and speaking about homosexuals in an “unflattering manner.”