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Board bans R-rated films in classrooms

If Federal Way school district students watch R-rated movies, it won’t be in class.

Films with R ratings were banished from district classrooms and lower-rated movies were “strongly discouraged” Monday by the School Board in reaction to parents’ and students’ objections to cinema as an educational tool.

Using the movie industry rating system as a guideline, the board voted that students in kindergarten through sixth grade can see nothing stronger than G-rated (general audience) movies, PG (parental guidance) films can be viewed only by junior high and high school pupils, and PG-13 flicks are for ninth through 12th graders only.

And R-rated movies (requiring an accompanying adult for viewing), the ones catching the most heat, “are not authorized to be shown at any Federal Way” public schools, the board declared.

An overflow crowd in the board’s meeting room was predominantly in favor of the movie crackdown. Most of the 30 people who took turns speaking at a podium said movies are wastes of classroom time and at the very least should be limited to films with inoffensive content.

The anti-movie contingent got a 3 to 1 board vote for the film policy –– the first one adopted by the board –– and an apology from district superintendent Thomas Murphy for the classroom viewing of certain films that most in the room Monday seemed to agree are non-educational.

“I’m embarassed. I absolutely guarantee you we will not violate this (new) policy,” Murphy said to loud, sustained applause and cheering.

Board president Earl VanDorien, who voted with Charley Hoff and Ed Barney for the film controls, said they are “setting a precedent that this board will frown on movies being shown in classes.”

Under the new rules, the board is saying it “strongly discouraged” the showing of feature-length films to students, and that movies must be relevant, educational and age-appropriate before any can be screened, VanDorien said.

Board member Don Putman voted against the policy, insisting –– as have some educators, parents and students –– that many movies are powerful supplements to classroom teaching and shouldn’t be lumped with films that raised opposition.

But Barney reflected the mood of Monday’s audience by saying that “Hollywood dramatization” has no place in school.

Jeremy Nickels, whose father, Randy, helped initiate board discussion of the issue earlier this month with objections to his children being exposed to R-rated movies, was among at least 15 high school students who raised their hands when asked how many believe movies are unnecessary in school.

“I don’t want to see that stuff,” Jeremy Nickels said.

To watch movies with PG ratings, students will be required to have their parents’ approval. School principals and teachers will be entrusted to select films that fit the new policy, board members said.

Teachers already were expected to send permission slips home and to give other projects to students who don’t want or aren’t allowed to watch a movie.

Movies such as “Schindler’s List,” an R-rated portrayal of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany, no longer are viewable in class, despite supporters’ claims that such critically acclaimed films about important historical events are appropriate.

Ken Duke, a parent of Lakota Junior High School students, said “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan,” a World War II drama with graphic scenes of battlefield deaths, have “absolutely no redeeming value.

“If history teaches us anything, it’s that we shouldn’t repeat it” in the form of movies in classrooms, Duke said.

That philosophy was counter to Pam Ashe, an English teacher at Federal Way High School. She said films can help students develop “a passion” for literature and learning.

Editor Pat Jenkins can be reached at 925-5565 and editor@fedwaymirror.com.

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