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Settlement With School District’s Insurer : Girls Who Objected to Classroom Film Split $100,000

Times Staff Writer

Two Escondido High School students who claim they were forced to watch a gruesome film about death in their math class received a combined settlement of $100,000 from the school district’s insurance carrier, it was disclosed Thursday.

The settlement was reached in September but had been ordered sealed by Vista Superior Court Judge F.V. Lopardo. The Times-Advocate newspaper reported the terms of the settlement Thursday after its attorney, seeking a court order to unseal the file, came across the settlement terms in an unsealed court file.

School officials confirmed the settlement terms, saying they preferred that the figures be made public but that they had been banned from discussing the case because of Lopardo’s order.

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The settlement stems from separate lawsuits filed in late 1985 and early 1986 by students Diane Feese and Sherry Forget, each of whom claimed to have been traumatized after being forced to watch portions of “Faces of Death” in their math class as a time-passing activity after final exams at the end of the school year in June, 1985. The teacher, Bart Schwarz, was suspended by the district without pay for 15 days after a district investigation into the matter. Schwarz, once voted “teacher of the year,” remains on the faculty.

The movie depicts grisly scenes of death, torture and dismemberment involving humans and animals. The girls claimed they were not allowed to leave the classroom and even though they shut their eyes to the movie, they could not block out the sound track or the other students’ comments and discussion during the viewing of the film.

Feese, who sought $3 million, received $57,500 in the settlement; Forget, who asked for $1 million, received $42,500, the newspaper reported. School board President George Reed confirmed the figures, and said the school board learned of the out-of-court settlement only after the district’s insurance carrier had struck the deal.

According to the district’s contract with the carrier, the district paid the first $1,000 and the carrier paid the balance.

“We objected to them settling it and then getting it sealed without conferring first with the board,” Reed said. “I interrogated the attorney for the insurance company afterwards and asked him if he was representing the school board or the insurance company, and he said, ‘Both.’ I pointed out to him that it was the most unusual attorney-client relationship I’d ever experienced. I saw no reason for sealing the record, and I so argued with him.”

Reed said he would not comment, however, on whether he agreed with the ultimate settlement, except to say:

“I abhor that any student should, by accident or intent or requirement, have seen that film. It’s got nothing to do with the course Schwarz was teaching, and bringing it in was totally unjustified.”

After the school board learned of the film’s showing, it adopted a more stringent policy on the use of films and videotapes in classrooms.

School board member Bruce Studebaker said some members of the board considered fighting the lawsuit in court and were opposed to the settlement. “But the insurance company wanted to settle out of court and the way it was put to us was that if we wanted to fight it, then we (the district) would be liable if we lost, and then you’re gambling with taxpayers’ money,” Studebaker said.

The attorneys for the insurance carrier and the two students could not be reached for comment.


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