A high school math teacher was suspended Wednesday night after charges that he forced his class to view a pornographic videotape that shows executions of humans and animals, human autopsies, dismemberment, suicide, explicit sex and the torture and mutilation of live animals.
One of the students in the class has sued the teacher and the school principal for $3 million, saying she was not allowed to leave the classroom when the film “Faces of Death” was shown.
Escondido High School teacher Bart Schwartz, 28, was suspended with pay for 30 days by a unanimous vote of the trustees of the Escondido Union High School District, pending an investigation by Supt. John Cooper.
Schwartz has acknowledged showing the film on June 17 during final exams week and then viewing it with the distressed student’s mother when she confronted him the following day, said attorney Rena Margolis, who is representing 16-year-old Diane M. Feese.
Because Schwartz had already given the final test of the year, he used the open two-hour period to show the film “First Blood” for the first 90 minutes of the class, Margolis said.
For the last 30 minutes of the class, Schwartz showed “the most gruesome parts” of “Faces of Death” by fast-fowarding the videocassette player through the dialogue and slowing it to regular speeds for the explicit scenes, Margolis said.
Schwartz reportedly told the class he wanted to show the film because it was “interesting.”
The scenes shown in the classroom included autopsies, decaying cadavers and live animals being butchered, mutilated and tortured.
The controversial, unrated movie also includes scenes of a man being electrocuted, another man being decapitated and a sex orgy in which a man is gutted, according to those who have seen it.
Floyd Feese, the girl’s father, said it is not exactly clear what scenes were shown in the class because his daughter tried to block out the images by covering her eyes. Still, he said, she heard the boisterous remarks and descriptions from the other students.
No other students have complained to school district officials, but Feese said he has spoken to several who admitted they were sickened by the film.
“There is peer pressure to be cool and not get the teacher in trouble,” Margolis said. “That’s why no one else has come forward publicly.”
She said it took her three sittings to finally view the entire film. Feese, a deputy sheriff assigned to the County Jail at Vista, said, “I don’t think there’s a single inmate in here who would show that film to his own children.”
School Board President Bruce Studebaker said Thursday, “Of course we’re distressed. That’s why we’ve taken the action we did.”
A letter of reprimand had previously been put in Schwartz’s personnel file, Cooper said. Depending on the outcome of his investigation, the school board could fire Schwartz, who has worked for the district six years, Cooper said.
Schwartz could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Studebaker said that after this incident the school board is sure to set down formal guidelines on the showing of films by teachers. “We expect professional staff to be professional, and to use good judgment in the selection of films, making sure they have educational content pertaining to the subject being taught. There’s a whole world of educational films and tapes out there to fill in dead space.”
The Feese lawsuit, filed last week in Vista Superior Court, accused Schwartz and school principal Donald Hegerle of negligence, negligent supervision, false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The suit characterizes the film as “outrageous” and suggests that the teen-ager may suffer permanently from the trauma. It notes, among other things, that schools have a duty to impress principles of morality, including kindness toward domestic pets and the humane treatment of living creatures.
Floyd Feese said his daughter was especially quiet the day she saw the film. “We asked her what was wrong and she said, ‘I saw the grossest movie of my life in school today.’ When we asked her to describe it she got real upset,” Feese said. “She was so vivid about what she saw we said it must have been make-believe and she said there was no question that it was real.”
Diane was one of several students who asked to leave the room but were denied permission by the teacher, Feese said.
The next day her mother went to the principal’s office to complain. Hegerle called Schwartz in to the office, and the film was discussed. Margaret Feese then left the campus, rented the film and returned for all three to view it. After the viewing, Schwartz was formally reprimanded by Hegerle, Cooper said.
The girl’s father said she has lost 25 pounds since June because she cannot bring herself to eat meat. Furthermore, the girl is being harassed by teachers, he said, by being falsely accused of misbehaving in class and by being ignored when she raises her hand to ask a question.
The school year has been tough on his daughter, Feese said. “Apparently he (Schwartz) was one of the more popular teachers on campus, and now Diane has blown the whistle on him.”
He said he has since heard reports from other parents and students that it is not unusual for R-rated films to be shown in classrooms by teachers.
Cooper acknowledged Thursday that he is concerned about the showing of films and tapes.
“Part of my investigation is to see how extensive the use of these (videotape) materials is, and whether it is subject-related,” Cooper said. “The showing of films during final exams week is more widespread than I initially realized.”
The film was released about 1970 in Japan but has never been commercially released in this country. Videotape versions of it became available in the United States in 1983 and have since been among the most sought-after videotapes by teen-agers and college-age youths, distributors say.