Arizona high school suspends drama teacher over play’s sexual content

By David Ferguson
Thursday, October 10, 2013 12:45 EDT
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Emily McAtee testifies to Scottsdale school board
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Cactus Shadows High School in Scottsdale, AZ suspended teacher Andrew Cupo over parent complaints about a play that Cupo taught his Advanced Drama class. According to AZCentral.com, Cupo’s students studied and read aloud the Edward Albee play “The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?”, an absurdist play about a man who falls in love with a goat. Parents complained that the play contains some strong sexual language and should not be taught to high schoolers.

At a public hearing of the Cave Creek Unified School District on Tuesday night, three parents and one student spoke out against the play, whereas nearly 40 students and parents spoke out in favor of Cupo and of teaching the play.

Elissa Ericson, head of fine arts at Cactus Shadows, said that Cupo repeatedly warned students that some might find the material offensive and offered them the option of studying a different play. In addition, Cupo required all of his advanced drama students to obtain parental permission at the beginning of the year to study potentially explicit material.

Nonetheless, student Emily McAtee — who declined the option to study a less controversial play because she thought she’d feel left out — testified before the school board on Tuesday that she regretted that decision because the vulgar terms in “The Goat” offended her sensibilities.

“I never took the opportunity of the other script so that I didn’t seem discriminated against,” said McAtee to AZCentral. “I understand Mr. Cupo’s point of what is metaphorically said within the script, but when we’re rehearsing these things and saying these things out loud, we’re not thinking of the metaphorical things, we’re thinking of who we’re trying to portray as the character.”

An anonymous parent called the county governing board over the weekend to complain about the play. David Schaefer, the president of the board, reportedly urged the parent to take up the matter with Cupo and the principal at Cactus Shadows.

Instead, the irate parent recruited a group of about 10 other parents and walked into the principal’s office on Monday morning and demanded that the school’s police officer handle the matter. The officer was then required to question several students about the matter.

School superintendent Debbie Budrick told AZCentral.com that Cupo was placed on administrative leave Monday as per district policy any time an investigation is opened against a teacher. There are a range of possible outcomes in the matter, she said, ranging from reinstatement of Cupo to his position with the matter closed, a disciplinary letter in her personnel file or even firing from his job.

Guy MaAtee, father of student Emily McAtee acknowledged that he signed the syllabus that Cupo sent home with Emily at the beginning of the year warning that some material could be found offensive, but that he didn’t expect his daughter to be exposed to the themes that Albee explored in the play.

“Having signed an acknowledgement of the course curriculum is in no way authorization for material of this nature to be approved,” he insisted to the school board. He did not comment as to why his daughter declined to study the less controversial script.

Watch video about this story, embedded below via AZCentral.com:

David Ferguson
David Ferguson
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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