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Forest Park High teacher appeals suspension over rated-R movie showing

Shawn Clements watches a movie clip during an employee hearing in which he is appealing a three-day suspension for showing a rated-R Spanish film to his Spanish I students at Forest Park High. (Staff Photo: Johnny Jackson)

Shawn Clements watches a movie clip during an employee hearing in which he is appealing a three-day suspension for showing a rated-R Spanish film to his Spanish I students at Forest Park High. (Staff Photo: Johnny Jackson)

JONESBORO — A Forest Park High teacher is appealing a three-day suspension for showing an R-rated movie without prior approval to his Spanish I classes.

Winston Demark, an attorney for Clayton County Public Schools, argued the teacher’s conduct in showing the film to minor students was inappropriate and against district procedure during Thursday’s employee hearing.

Shawn Clements represented himself before a three-member panel to answer questions about why he showed the movie, “Mi Familia,” to 14-to-17-year-olds in his classroom March 17.

“I had just finished a family lesson in class,” he told the panel. “I thought it would be appropriate to show something the kids can relate to.”

Clements said the film, consisting of Spanish-speaking characters, deals with cultural issues such as immigration and familial generation gaps.

He said the showing served a basic purpose in familiarizing students with the “family” vocabulary and the more complex purpose of relating students to the challenges faced by family structures, particularly Spanish-speaking families.

Officials were concerned about other content in the R-rated film, which they said contained sexually-explicit scenes, partial nudity, profanity and gore.

Forest Park High Assistant Principal Karie Speights said he entered Clements’ class during a routine five-minute walk-through.

“The room was dark because there was a movie showing,” he testified. “There was a young lady dancing.”

Speights said the film quickly transitioned into a brief bedroom scene that included a nude man and woman in which the man’s bare back was exposed, the woman’s back was exposed and her “full breast” was exposed during the simulated intimate act.

He said he quickly asked Clements to stop the movie and spoke with him in the hallway. An investigation followed.

Clements said the scene was deeper than the inferred act. He said the scene included dialogue from a newlywed couple and their challenges surrounding the issue of immigration and family.

“That was the first time they actually connected,” he said.

Clements said he had shown the movie to high school students over the past 10 years as part of his classroom curriculum. But this was his first time showing the film to students in Clayton County.

“I started off in Philadelphia teaching,” he said. “When I was teaching in Virginia, it (the movie) held a lot of weight. I guess different places have different expectations.”

Clements said he was hired by the district in August 2012, a week into the school year, to teach at Lovejoy Middle. He was subsequently transferred about a year later to teach Spanish I at Forest Park High when the middle school program was cut.

He said he did not show the film to middle schoolers but argued high school students are more mature. He also said he was unaware of the district’s standards in having films and other media approved by administrators before exposing them to students.

“I really didn’t think that was a big deal,” said Clements. “I didn’t even know there was a policy. Looking back, I think I wouldn’t show that video at all because I see how much trouble it’s caused. I probably will never show the video again, because of this.”