Get Schooled

Your source to discuss and learn about education in Georgia and the nation and share opinions and news with Maureen Downey

It was stupid for a substitute teacher to show students a horror film. But was it criminal?

A substitute teacher showed a graphic horror film to high school students, clearly a bad decision.

But was it a criminal act?

An Ohio jury thought so, convicting the substitute in January of four counts of disseminating matter harmful to juveniles. Last week, an Ohio judge sentenced Sheila Kearns, 58, to 90 days in jail, setting off a national debate over whether her actions merited time behind bars.

A paean to the horror genre, the movie features 26 different stories about death, some of them quite brutal and disturbing. The Columbus Dispatch called one of the producers who told the newspaper he was stunned anyone would show the film to high school kids.

Despite the graphic violence and sex in the 129-minute film, Kearns went ahead and showed it to four more Spanish classes that day. It was her decision to continue showing the film after the first class that contributed to the guilty verdict.

The trial revealed some disturbing facts about the use of substitute teachers. And that may be worse  crime here. Kearns was hired as a long-term sub for Spanish classes even though she didn't speak Spanish. (She testified she chose the movie because she thought part of it was in Spanish.)

At sentencing, Common Pleas Judge Charles A. Schneider noted Kearns' glaring lack of qualifications, saying, “They put a permanent substitute in a high-school Spanish class who can’t speak Spanish at all. Here we are, with the Columbus public schools telling us what wonderful things (they) are doing.”

According to the Columbus Dispatch:

Kearns, 58, of Miller Avenue on the South Side, had told investigators that she didn’t watch the movie in advance or while showing it during five Spanish classes at the high school on April 11, 2013.

But one student testified during Kearns’ trial that the teacher did watch portions of the movie. The student, who was 17 at the time, called the movie “disturbing” and said students “were going crazy” while watching it.

Assistant County Prosecutor Kacey Chappelear had told jurors in closing arguments on Wednesday that the name of the movie was reason enough for Kearns to explore the content before showing it to juveniles. “Willful ignorance is not a defense,” she said.

In reading the commentary online, people are divided into two camps:

The first agrees with this Huffington Post commenter: “I'm sorry; this just doesn't rise to a criminal offense to me. Fire her, and strip her of her credentials, but jailing her really serves no purpose.”

The second camp shares the sentiment of this  Columbus Dispatch reader: "Anyone who doesn't think this woman should be charged with a multiple felonies should go to YouTube and watch a few clips from this movie. I guarantee that after you watch a few of them, you will be hoping this woman goes to prison."

What do you think?



Reader Comments ...

About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.