March 20, 1996
High School Teacher Wins Case Over Showing of R-Rated Film
ENVER -- A judicial hearing officer has ruled that a local school district cannot dismiss a high school English teacher for showing the R-rated Bertolucci film "1900" to his 17- and 18-year-old students.
The teacher, Alfred E. Wilder, of Columbine High School in the Denver suburb of Littleton, was suspended in March 1995 just days after he showed parts of the film to his senior-level Logic and Debate class.
Two parents of 17-year-old students complained about the movie, a four-hour epic about the rise of fascism in 20th-century Italy. Made in 1977, the movie includes scenes of homosexuality, oral sex, frontal nudity and violence.
The case later drew national attention because of support for the teacher from the directors Martin Scorsese, Milos Forman, James Ivory and Bernardo Bertolucci himself.
The hearing officer, Nancy L. Cohen of Littleton, found that the school had no written policy on sending home permission slips for material that parents might object to.
The local school board, the Jefferson County Board of Education, now has 20 days to decide what to do about the teacher. The board has sought his dismissal, not only for showing the movie but also for tardiness, excessive use of the phone and leaving the classroom during class.
"He had a history of disregard for rules," said the principal, Ron Mitchell. The hearing officer did not rule on those allegations.
Wilder has taught for 24 years, and at Columbine he was known for alternative teaching methods, like Socratic discussions.
Deanna Duby, a spokeswoman for People for the American Way, which tracks school censorship issues, said the Littleton case appeared fairly typical of those in recent years. "It's never a mediocre teacher either," Ms. Duby said, "but always someone who tried to push the envelope."
In several states, including Indiana, Minnesota, New Mexico and Tennessee, and other school districts in Colorado, parents and teachers have begun to petition for bans and stricter guidelines on showing R-rated films in the classrooms.
Copyright 1996 The New York Times Company