When fourth-grade students at Lankershim Elementary School in North Hollywood were told they were going to watch a movie while their teachers walked the picket line, they probably were unprepared for a horror film about a razor-wielding monkey.
But that is just what they got in "Monkey Shines . . . An Experiment in Fear," which the Motion Picture Assn. of America rated R for "sex, nudity, language and violence."
An embarrassed Los Angeles Unified School District has been forced to offer a public apology and open an investigation into how the movie wound up on a list of films approved for use in the classroom.
"This is serious," said Maria Casillas, administrator of the school district's San Fernando Valley region. "We are sorry. We will apologize in writing."
The movie was shown Monday, the first day of the teacher walkout. Students from several classes were ushered into the school auditorium to see the movie, which revolves around a trained monkey carrying out the vengeful fantasies of its paraplegic master.
As the plot unfolded, a student, Erik Rodriguez, 9, got up to leave. But he was ordered to sit down and continue watching, according to his mother, Dora Rodriguez.
"He didn't care for it," she said.
A striking teacher who saw students outside school that afternoon said they looked "shocked and very upset. It sounded to me like the children had been victims of having to watch something way beyond their abilities to deal with."
Parents who called to complain were at first told the movie was acceptable and was rated PG, Rodriguez said. She also said some staff members at the school assured her that many of the children had previously seen the movie many times. "What's the big deal?" they asked, according to Rodriguez.
Casillas said she now realizes "something did go wrong." Casillas said district policy forbids showing R-rated and PG-13 movies to elementary school children.
District officials plan to meet next week with school principal Anna McLinn to pursue their investigation, Casillas said. She is not sure how an R-rated movie ended up on an approved list that apparently was put together in advance of the strike.
"Maybe it was a plant by someone out on strike," she suggested.
She also said she does not know why adults in charge of the screening allowed it to continue running after they saw the nature of the film.