By Vivien Schweitzer , 03 Feb 2006
Tresa Waggoner, the Colorado music teacher whose attempts to introduce local children to opera drew a storm of criticism, has decided to take legal action after being forced to take administrative leave from the Bennett School.
As of January 30, following a meeting with school officials where she was told she "was not a good fit," she has been put on paid administrative leave pending an investigation. Waggoner told PlaybillArts today that she doesn't "want to be made the sacrificial lamb" and risk ruining her teaching career.
The controversy began after Waggoner, who teaches elementary, middle and high school students at the K-12 school in a small town about 25 miles east of Denver, tried to pique the curiosity of the first, second, and third graders in one of her classes about opera. She chose a video of Gounod's Faust (which she found on the classroom shelf) to teach the children about bass and tenor voices, the use of props, and "trouser roles" in opera.
The latter, she says, led to accusations that the married mother of two was a lesbian promoting homosexuality; the plot of Faust , where the title character sells his soul to the devil to recapture his youth, led to her being labeled a devil worshipper.
The uproar began about a week later, when Waggoner was contacted by a mother asking why her daughter had watched a video on the devil. Waggoner believes that the incident was a catalyst for parents to express their frustration about the school's December 9 annual concert. According to Waggoner, the parent said, "I don't understand why you wouldn't let the kids sing Christmas songs, but you'll show them a video on the devil." Ironically, Waggoner says, she had chosen a diverse repertoire for the concert in order to avoid offending the community's non-Christians.
Parents were given a copy of the video, but not told that their children had only been shown about ten minutes of it; they then "demanded nothing less than her termination," Waggoner said.
Waggoner is the liturgist for the Brighton Presbyterian church, which she attends weekly; the minister and congregation have defended her as a "woman of God." She added: "It's unbelievable that people think I'm a devil worshipper! But we are talking about very ignorant, conservative people. You say 'homosexual' and they are up in arms!"
Waggoner is particularly frustrated, she said, that the school didn't stand up to the minority of parents who demanded her dismissal, pointing out that only 11 out of 200 students had been pulled from her classes. She has received numerous letters and phone calls of support from teachers, students, and parents. Following the incident, however, scheduled performances by Opera Colorado at the school have been cancelled.
"I want fight for what's right," Waggoner said. "The biggest travesty is the childrens' education." When initially asked what they knew about the opera, she said, her students said, "fat women screaming," "people yelling in Viking hats," and "I hate it." After seeing the Faust video, "they got excited by opera, but now they associate it with a four letter word," Waggoner said.