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Berg beheading tests school policies on graphic video
From eSchool News staff and wire service reports
May 25, 2004
The easy availability over the internet of graphic video footage showing an American civilian being beheaded in Iraq has caused problems for some school administrators.
Teachers in at least six states--California, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Texas--have been disciplined or are under investigation for showing the video to students during class, according to Associated Press reports. In other reported cases, students were caught using school computers to access the video on their own.
The video of the beheading of American civilian contractor Nicholas Berg, 26, was posted on a web site linked to the Islamic extremist group al-Qaida earlier in May. American television networks broadcast preliminary scenes but deemed the beheading too grisly to show.
The filtering software used by most schools can be set up to block the site where the video originated, but the images have cropped up on a host of other sites around the globe. More important, educators agree, is the need for school leaders to establish and communicate clear policies for what kinds of video images are considered appropriate for students to view at school.
In Ontario, Ore., the local school board disciplined two high school social studies teachers on May 21 for showing students the gruesome video of Berg's beheading.
Students had the option of not watching the beheading as it was shown in Ontario High School classrooms on May 13, according to school board director Evelyn Dame, but many did.
Dame declined to identify the teachers or specify how they had been disciplined.
Neither Dame nor Carol Kitamura, the district's personnel director, could provide the number of students who chose to view the beheading.
The school board has no specific policy on graphic images, Dame said, but could discipline the teachers for violating a policy on presenting material not appropriate to the maturity level or competence of students.
Dame said the teachers agreed to penalties instituted by the board.
Kitamura said the teachers claimed they showed the video as part of social studies curriculum on current events. Kitamura said the teachers showed remorse and regret for their decision to show the video. The board sent letters to parents of the children saying they may have watched the beheading at school.
Dame added that parents should have been involved in the decision by the teachers to show the video.
With the board's May 21 decision, the school district became the latest in the country to discipline teachers who showed the video in classrooms.
High school teachers in Texas and Ohio have been placed on administrative leave or are under investigation for showing the video. One teacher in Texas is under investigation for reportedly allowing students to watch the beheading during a classroom pizza party.
A high school teacher and track coach in Oklahoma also might face disciplinary action for letting students use her computer to connect to the internet and view video of the beheading.
Putnam City High School Principal Don Wentroth said the incident happened May 18 during a study hall for members of the girls' track team.
"It was a mistake in judgment for this teacher to show that video clip to a small group of students," Wentroth said. "She's made a mistake, and she's been making calls to parents and talking to students."
The teacher's name has not been released. Wentroth said he met with parents May 20 to address their concerns.
"The parents I've visited with are satisfied, I believe, in the way we're handling things," he said.
"This kind of video is definitely inappropriate to show at school. I don't believe [students will] be scarred or harmed permanently from something like this, but we'll be available if the students are having nightmares, trouble concentrating, or other problems and they need to talk about it."
District spokesman Steve Lindley said such a video would be included in the district's policy banning students or faculty from using school computers to view obscene material.
"I definitely think this would be considered obscene," he said.
In South Dakota, a teacher at Dell Rapids High School will not be disciplined for showing students the video, the school board president said May 21. The board decided its policy on showing such graphic images was unclear.
President Robert Harms said the board will discuss what kinds of video are appropriate to show in classrooms. The board could make changes over the summer, he said.
The school's current policy prohibits only pornography from being viewed on the internet, school officials said.
Dell Rapids students said the teacher was not in favor of the students watching the video, but they wanted to watch it as part of current events. No one objected in a class vote, they said.
Ontario High School
Dell Rapids Public School District 49-3