Fulton teacher resigns over blog entry, school play flap

Saturday, March 18, 2006

FULTON, Mo. -- A high school drama teacher whose spring play was canceled after church members complained to her superintendent about tawdry content in a previous production will resign rather than face a possible firing.

"It became too much to not be able to speak my mind or defend my students without fear of retribution," said Fulton High School teacher Wendy DeVore.

DeVore's students were scheduled to perform Arthur Miller's "The Crucible," a drama set during the 17th-century Salem witch trials that also is required reading for the school's 11th-graders.

But after a handful of Callaway Christian Church members complained about scenes showing teens smoking, drinking and kissing in the fall musical "Grease," Fulton schools superintendent Mark Enderle told DeVore to find a more family-friendly substitute.

DeVore chose Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream," a classic romantic comedy with its own dicey subject matter, including suicide, rape and losing one's virginity.

She also took issue with Enderle's explanation of the dispute by posting an online response to a letter he had written to The Fulton Sun newspaper.

That blog entry apparently angered Enderle and members of the Fulton school board, said DeVore, who after the "Grease" dustup was told by administrators that her annual contract might not be renewed.

"There's a part of me that says maybe I'm just a bit too outspoken for public schools," said DeVore, 31, a six-year teaching veteran. "Maybe I need to find a school that's a better match."

Publicity over the drama debate, including a front-page story in The New York Times, has cast an unflattering light on Fulton as an intolerant small town, several of DeVore's colleagues said earlier this week at a school board candidates' forum.

Teacher morale is low and students remain upset and confused, they said.

"You can't go anywhere they're not talking about it," teacher Paula Fessler told The Fulton Sun. "We have become a laughingstock."

Both Enderle and Fulton High principal Terri Arms declined to discuss DeVore's resignation, which must still be approved by the board and would take effect at the end of this school year, citing privacy concerns.

Arms said she was surprised some teachers and students remain troubled by the administration's handling of the matter.

"The kids had moved on," she said. "I thought we all had."

That doesn't mean Fulton audiences won't get a chance to see "The Crucible," a drama written 50 years ago and aimed at efforts to root out Communists in Hollywood and New York.

A local group that includes professors from Westminster and William Woods colleges in Fulton plans to host a public reading and discussion of the Miller play on Tuesday.

The group's name: the First Amendment Players.

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