Teddy bears of doom

Sophomoric filmmaking isn’t grounds for expulsion.

KNIGHTSTOWN, Ind. — Making a movie in which evil teddy bears attack a teacher got two budding filmmakers expelled from their high school, but a federal judge says it was the school that was wrong.

Two sophomores made a movie in which a “teddy bear master” orders stuffed animals to kill a teacher in revenge for a humiliation. Students fight the homicidal teddies, reports AP.

School officials had argued that the film was disruptive and that a teacher whose name was used in the movie found it threatening. Prosecutors reviewed the movie but declined to press charges.

State law allows expulsion for activity unconnected with school if the activity is unlawful and interferes with school operations.

The judge said the movie was “vulgar,” “tasteless,” “humiliating” and “obscene,” but ruled that school officials did not prove it disrupted school.

The judge urged the boys to apologize to the math teacher whose name they used in the movie.

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  1. Richard Nieporent says:

    The judge said the movie was “vulgar,” “tasteless,” “humiliating” and “obscene,”

    I see a bright future in Hollywood for these budding filmmakers.:)

  2. These kids worked over a year to do this film. Too bad they didn’t use the name of a cool teacher.

  3. Walter E. Wallis says:

    The film may have been sophmoric, but weren’t the boys ahem sophmores?

  4. Half Canadian says:

    “These kids worked over a year to do this film.”

    Any bets that their efforts in math are substantially less?

  5. wayne martin says:

    This badly written (AP) article doesn’t even cover the basic questions that should be answered in this situation. For instance:

    Was this a school project?

    Was the film made on school property with school funds?

    Were there other people involved?

    What was the purpose of the film?

    Where was the film shown? (From a WEB-site, in a class room presentation, passed around on a home-cut DVD?)

    How many people actually saw this film?

    What did people (presumably students) do after seeing this film? (Did they engage in any violent acts?)

    Did the two boys used the finished product to threaten the teacher, or any of the staff?

    How did this film prove to be disruptive, as the Administration claimed?

    From looking at a small number of articles on this matter, it seems that there were other boys involved in the making of the film, who have not taken legal action. However, none of these key questions have been posed by Media, which is supposed to be providing “fair and balanced” reporting.

    In one article, the Administration is quoted as saying: “Well, at least we learned a lesson”. Unfortunately, the reporter didn’t ask: “and what lesson would that be?”

  6. Speaking as a teacher, I have one more question: where can I see this movie? It sounds interesting.

  7. This was not a school project. The movie wasn’t made on school property or during school time and it wasn’t shown at school. Some students saw portions of it on MySpace and told others about it; the word got to the administration, which expelled the four students involved for the school year. Two of the expelled students sued. Here’s the Indianapolis Star story.

  8. Miller Smith says:

    If a parent of a child in that school had been the actual producer and director of that movie instead of their child, what would the legal actions have been?

    None. There would be no legal actions possible. That is why the actions against the students were wrong.

    The school system is going to be sued and they have just made it toally cool to make movies and cartoons to be spread around. Are these “adults” that run the school system idiots?

  9. Richard Nieporent says:

    n a letter to School Board members Nov. 3, Superintendent McGuire said teacher Daniel Clevenger, who teaches seventh grade at Knightstown Intermediate School, felt threatened.

    I sure hope nobody sent Daniel Clevenger a Christmas present from here.

  10. wayne martin says:

    This story offered the possibilities of some very interesting student/school First Amendment issues. However, the reporting didn’t come close to explaining what was going on here. I was able to find a Blog where the details of the affair bring clarity to a very fuzzy picture:

    Four teenagers were expelled from Knightstown High School over a movie, titled “The Teddy Bear Master.” The boys, who are sophomores, worked on the teddy bear movie from fall 2005 through summer 2006. In the movie, the “teddy bear master” orders stuffed animals to kill a teacher who had embarrassed him, but students battle the toy beasts. “The thing that concerned us the most is that all the bears were brown,” said Principal Jim Diagostino. “You can’t tell me there’s not a connection to terrorism there somewhere.”

    In a letter to school board members, the district superintendent said teacher Daniel Clevenger, who teaches seventh grade at Knightstown Intermediate School, felt threatened by the movie. “Now it’s true that Mr. Clevenger also feels threatened by clowns and thunder, but that’s no reason he should have to spend the rest of the school year locked in his bathroom,” the letter concluded.

    Indianapolis attorney Robert Kelso, who represents the school district, wrote in a document filed in court that the movie contained vulgar and offensive language, threatened and intimidated a teacher. “They called him Daniel the Spaniel,” Kelso wrote. “While it’s true he’ll never be named one of the 100 most handsome men in the country, he is definitely more of a bulldog than a spaniel.”

    The Henry County prosecutor’s office reviewed the movie but declined to press charges. “I had Daniel the…er…Mr. Clevenger when I was in seventh grade,” a spokesperson for the Prosecutor’s Office said, “This was a much less violent fantasy than mine was.”

    “It’s a 14- or 15-year-old boy’s idea of humor,” said Jackie Suess, an attorney for the ACLU of Indiana, which is representing one of the students. “I’m sorry Daniel the…er…Mr. Clevenger was upset by it, but anyone who tells people that ‘teaching would be a great job if it weren’t for students’ probably doesn’t belong in the classroom in the first place.”

    Two of the boys are asking a federal judge in Indianapolis to order the students reinstated, arguing that school officials overreacted to a film parody and violated their First Amendment rights. “We’re planning a sequel,” one of the students said. “We’re calling it “The Clown Master Comes To Knightstown Intermediate.”

    So this story seems to revolve around a male 7th grade math teacher who felt “threatened” by the video, and a Middle School principal who believed that the brown teddy bears were “somehow related to terrorism”.

    It’s unfortunate that the story will probably end here, since the issues related to student Free Speech off-campus has never been much of an issue. With the availability of low-cost/no-cost WEB-sites to provide a publishing vehicle, it’s only a matter of time before activist students become a thorn in the side of schools by calling for walkouts, failure-to-attend, or on-site protests. In this case, none of that seems to be at issue .. but it will one of these days. Sooner or later the various legislatures will want to look at the power of the School Boards to expel kids who have done nothing on a school site, other than annoy school officials.

  11. actually that was four student film makters