District Responds to 'Highly Controversial Films" Complaint

A Hinsdale South dad voiced concern over the use of "American Beauty" and "Brokeback Mountain" in a Film as Literature class, sparking a bit of debate among parents.

In response to a recent complaint from a parent about the school's showing of the films "American Beauty" and "Brokeback Mountain" in a film as literature class, District 86 released the following letter to the community:

Dear Hinsdale Township High School District 86 Community:

I’m writing today regarding a recent curriculum objection filed by the parent of a Hinsdale South senior regarding the newly reintroduced “Film as Literature” course, which is offered as an English elective that junior- and senior-level students may voluntarily choose to take in order to fulfill their graduation requirements. This course examines topics related to the adaptation of various forms of literature to film.

The selections screened during this course can contain R-rated films, which the Motion Picture Association of America suggests children under 17 to view in the presence of an accompanying parent or adult guardian.  District 86 instructional policy states that no R-rated movies shall be shown to students unless prior approval is received from the building principal. More importantly, this course requires that parents of all students in this course provide informed consent through a signed permission slip confirming that their child may view each selection. Any parent who objects to a particular film selection may indicate as such and that student will be provided an alternate assignment in the course with no academic penalty.  All parents of students in this class have provided informed consent by signing the permission slip that allows for their child to watch the movies identified in the syllabus of Films as Literature.

On September 12, the parent of a Hinsdale South high school senior, who had previously provided permission for his child to view all of the films listed on the “Film as Literature” course syllabus, filed a formal curriculum objection to two selections: “Brokeback Mountain” and “American Beauty.”

The District conforms with the Illinois School Code Section 10-20.8 requirements regarding instructional curriculum. This is the first time in my eight years that District 86 has received any curriculum objections.

Selections in the “Film as Literature” course were chosen based on their ability to achieve the course objectives as detailed in the syllabus provided to students and parents at the beginning of the semester.  “Brokeback Mountain,” for example, addresses objectives in a unit on text adaptations.  The story itself, by Annie Proulx, won multiple awards, and the screenwriters and the director made many decisions for the film that offer valuable topics for discussion.  These include the genres of both romance and Western, story-to-film, cinematography, music and themes.  In addition, the film helps to balance other films in the course in terms of genres, styles, time periods, themes and techniques.  “American Beauty” has similar qualities.  It synthesizes many cinematic elements and offers many topics and themes for study.

These films will remain on the course syllabus pending the District’s handling of the formal curriculum objection based on its Uniform Grievance Procedure as detailed in Board Policy 2:260.

Hinsdale Township High School District 86 is proud of the academic quality and integrity of the curriculum delivered in our schools. Teaching and learning in the District is continuously monitored to assure effectiveness and to enable improvement. We take parent and community concerns on this topic seriously and our handling of this matter will be conducted with the utmost professionalism and respect. Our commitment is to provide the best possible learning environment for each student and for all students to learn as much as possible in order to maximize their future opportunities.


Dr. Nicholas D. Wahl

Superintendent of Schools

Hinsdale Township H.S. District 86

Lisa Ventrella September 15, 2012 at 05:15 PM
Bill, Really, "normal, straight kids" ?! Get a grip. It's attitudes like yours that contribute to teen suicide and bullying. Shame on you. You signed consent and now you want to complain?! Your poor kid.
Bill September 15, 2012 at 05:44 PM
The movies mentioned are inappropriate for students at this age. I suppose that if the students are gay, these types of controversial films might comfort them, but for other kids this would be an uncomfortable thing to watch, and possibly discuss in an open classroom, and it is not what we send our kids to school to learn! These selections are individual choices that are best left out of a public school. So here is another example of liberals using a system to push their agenda into traditional conservative principles, and this thinking has no place in a public school system. Using our impressionable youth this way should be a crime. We as parents of students in a highly rated school district had trusted that our educators were making appropriate curriculum selections, but the choice of these selections concerns me. Worst, the protective response by the superintendent scares me. Don’t hide behind a permission slip and say you have the parent’s approval. How can a parent know the content of all the films listed on a course syllabus when it’s time to sign that permission slip? We could spend all our time checking up on everything the school is doing, but that’s not the solution. Let’s get back to teaching less-controversial curricula. My thanks to the parent for speaking up and raising concerns.
Marcy September 15, 2012 at 07:01 PM
Another form of propagandizing our kids. Liberal parents can go suck .... This superintend is only seeing a one sided issue....
Marcy September 15, 2012 at 07:03 PM
I totally agree. There are many factors here that I would call attention to as well. This needs media attention call Fox News ,,,,I will do that ....
Marcy September 15, 2012 at 07:05 PM
I feel sorry for you buddy.....
Marcy September 15, 2012 at 07:06 PM
I will get some national attention on this story by emailing Oreilly
Mike Neberz September 15, 2012 at 11:32 PM
Fox News? Please, The Daily Show on Comedy Central has more reputable journalism. The notion of a 'controversial curriculum' is clearly in the eye of the beholder. I don't see this curriculum as controversial at all. When religion is taught in the public school, as a part of history, isn't that okay? Should we take religion out of the history taught in public schools too? I don't want any religious agendas "pushed" upon my kids...as you say...but religion is a part of history, literature, etc., just as the topics of this class are a part of culture and the world. It would obviously be ridiculous to do so. Avoid it if you must, but learning about culture and our differences is the crux of education. If you think a high ACT score is all your son or daughter is getting out of high school, and will serve them in college and life, then you might want to pay a little more attention. In the end, the class is an elective and although opinions may differ on what is being taught, alternative assignments were provided and no penalties were given. If you don't want to watch the movie, don't watch it. No harm done. However, if individuals continue to think they can make choices for ME and MY kids...that's just not going to fly. Conservative politicos continue to talk about the foundations of our country and the freedom of individuals...yet continue to put up boundaries and draw the lines to feed their OWN agendas. Its hypocritical...plain and simple.
Lisa Ventrella September 16, 2012 at 01:02 AM
Amen, Mike!! So very well said. You don't like the elective being offered, don't take. And I agree, Fox news (oxymoron) is a terrible place to find an objective report on the news. A few bad apples won't spoil it for the rest of us who want our children to learn and be exposed to other cultures and experiences that in the end will make them better and more well rounded individuals than the prejudiced and judgemental young people they are bringing up. Hypocritical? 100 percent correct.
Darien Resident September 16, 2012 at 08:18 AM
This "kid" is the opposite of poor! This student has a parent that truly cares and takes the time and responsibility to be invested in their child's formation. This parent is to be applauded and the school as well as society should be supporting him. I feel bad for the kids who don't have such parents.
Darien Resident September 16, 2012 at 08:35 AM
Is there a line you would draw on "learning and experiences"? What is your criteria? Should the school allow the Klu Klux Klan in to speak so that your child will learn about hatred? Or should the school bring in pimps and prostitutes to enlighten your student about the sex trade? It is simply false to believe that all experiences are the same; much less make for a well-rounded individual.
Darien Resident September 16, 2012 at 09:24 AM
One must question the reason why District 86’s policy mandated that no R-rated movies shall be shown to its students. Could it possibly be to protect students from inappropriate material? Secondly, one must ask why the administration is requiring parental consent for this class? I suggest the very fact that they are requiring parental consent demonstrates that the administration recognizes that there is indeed a problem with the films chosen. After all, no parental consent is required for a course in calculus. The administration appears either unwilling or too weak to enforce its own policies and confront the teacher who has crossed the line. Instead, it passes its responsibilities off onto the parent via a consent form--forcing parents into an untenable choice—either turn a blind eye to their parental responsibilities and give their approval or having to defend their position both to their children and to the possible contempt of the community at large (as witnessed here). If policies were enforced, no consent form would be necessary. Have no doubt, there are other movies that are not objectionable that could be used to teach the concept of text adaptations. And just because the film has won many awards has no bearing on the fact that this movie is not appropriate for high-school students—if Ms. Wimsatt was teaching college students, it would be a different story.
Darien Resident September 16, 2012 at 09:46 AM
There is an IT expression which says “Garbage in, Garbage out”. Students are already overwhelmingly fed a diet of sexual messages including sexual deviancy, and sex without commitment from TV and the internet—bringing it into the school simply cannot be justified no matter how you couch it. Remember, the students of today are the citizens of tomorrow. School as well as parents should have a vested interest in turning out well-adjusted, morally upright and sexually committed individuals into society. And never should the school nor the administration undermine that objective. Finally, no one has addressed the psychological impact of these films on the students. Like it or not, adolescents’ responses to the challenges of learning to deal with sexual desires, confronting sexual attitudes, and developing a sense of self are profoundly influenced by the social and cultural context in which they live. For the sake of our students, I urge the Superintendent, the School Board and all concerned parents and community members to support the stripping of this content from the curriculum.
Mike Neberz September 16, 2012 at 01:16 PM
Darien Resident...did you really just compare homosexuality to the KKK and prostitution? Really? I won't dignify this with an answer.
Mike Neberz September 16, 2012 at 01:25 PM
Do you REALLY think that students aren't learning about everything you talked about already...inside and outside of the school walls? The release by the superintendent stated that the class covered a variety of topics, not just sexuality...yet the focus seems to be only there for some reason. I say...think of the psychological impact of NOT teaching about culture and the realities of social awareness across the board. THAT is when we have students making poor choices...including the bullying and degradation of other students who don't fit into the 'pretty' social norms cast by those who are ignorant to culture and diversity. There are counselors and social workers in school for a reason. Utilize them to support the concerns of everyone involved, don't thwart education because of fear...educate to eradicate it!
Lisa Ventrella September 16, 2012 at 01:48 PM
Thanks for responding, Mike. The ignorance and stupidity of someone who can't even post their name behind what their beliefs are left me speechless. It seems "Darien resident" doesn't really have a valid argument but just wants to fight and stir the pot. I bet the kids of these ignorant parents know all about everything they abhor and fear. These parents act ans talk like morons. In summary, you can't cure stupid.
Mike Neberz September 16, 2012 at 02:21 PM
Well, I don't want to drag in the mud...so I would never call anyone 'stupid.' I do believe that everyone should be entitled to their opinions and beliefs, but I also DO NOT believe anyone should be castigated for theirs either. Categorizing and labeling only hampers open-mindedness and education shouldn't be held to the boundaries of fear and ignorance. Its a community effort and conversation that is good to have (for everyone)...but one that should be in respect to opening the minds of our youth, not degrading others and closing the doors on learning.
Lisa Ventrella September 16, 2012 at 03:43 PM
True. Stupid actions and words don't necessarily mean the individual is stupid, only that their words and/or actions are thoughtless and inconsiderate. My apologies for a poor word choice. Borrowing from Judge Judy! Lol. As I've said before, this is an elective course we are talking about. If these parents don't want their kids exposed to this class, do not sign consent and then back peddle with actions such as this and slander to others who may be different from them and/or have different opinions that they may have. Plain and simple. We all need to get along out there and compassion and respect will hopefully get us there.
Darien Resident September 16, 2012 at 04:03 PM
The labels of homophobic, and intolerant some may attribute to me doesn’t make me so. I believe that society desperately needs the talents and contributions of all people regardless of their gender, religion or sexual orientation. I believe that when any segment of society is marginalized or degraded, society loses. I believe the human dignity of all should and must be upheld and the promotion of the dignity of all should be encouraged including within the confines of the school. That being said, I have no more interest in seeing our schools promote or discuss the sexual habits of homosexuals as would I be to the inclusion of discussions related to sadism, masochism, sadomasochism, fetishism, paedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, transvestism, the KKK or the sex trade. I think time is better spent on other subjects. It is apparent that the very people who accuse me of intolerance are themselves guilty of it.
Mike Neberz September 16, 2012 at 04:43 PM
Again, Darien Resident...you're comparing homosexuality to sadism? masochism? fetishism? pedophilia? voyeurism? the KKK and the sex trade? Seriously? Wow...not sure how to respond to that if not to say...looks like the school system failed you, as well. So sad. I'm very tolerant...of all races, creeds, cultures, etc....but ignorance is a choice and you have clearly chosen to ignore the research and facts. Your comparisons are absurd, ignorant and beyond reproach. There is plenty of information on this topic on the APA (Amercian Psychological Association) website...I suggest you study a little before you 'spout' your contradictions in public. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/sexual-orientation.aspx I'm specifically sorry for you, Darien Resident...whoever you are. :)
Jack September 16, 2012 at 05:21 PM
"Darien Resident," Seriously?!?!? Hinsdale South has a Lesbian, Gay, Straight, Bi club. Most schools do nowadays. And most schools study different forms of sexuality. However, schools don't have "sadism, masochism, sadomasochism," etc. clubs. So by you equating the two, you are making your argument very, very shallow and narrowminded. I've attended programs at Hinsdale South where students are taught to respect diversity and accept others for their differences. South has done a nice job of preventing the bullying that is going around the country still (from people like you! who want to promote just the lifestyle of same race, heterosexual, preferably in-marriage relationships). Years ago, you would have been one of those guys trying to prevent women from voting and blacks from getting equal rights (what's next? segregating blacks at South?). And you would have been laughing with glee in your pick-up truck as you are dragging Matthew Shepard down some country roads. Perhaps someday, one of your kids or grandkids might end up gay. Which type of teacher would you prefer? A teacher who respects diversity and accepts all types of kids or a teacher that you want right now? Think about it. As a senior at South, I am just able to vote in the upcoming elections. You're making my choices pretty easy.
Jack September 16, 2012 at 07:31 PM
Is there a district policy on no R-rated films? I couldn't find that on the district's site. With your logic, are you saying that anything with parental consent should not be taught? Then sex education, animal dissection, field trips, and just about anything else where parents are informed should be eliminated. What policies I did find on the district's website: "Discussion of controversial issues should be age-appropriate, serve an educational purpose, be consistent with the curriculum, and present a balanced view." (6:80). So, apparently, the district recognizes that controversial issues CAN be addressed! Here's another board policy, "In all grades, character values must be stressed including: (a) honesty, (b) kindness, (c) justice, (d) discipline, (e) respect for others, and (f) moral courage. (6:60). Ah, "respect for others"! We can't be having that! Here's another board policy: "In all schools, citizenship values must be taught, including: (a) patriotism, (b) democratic principles of freedom, justice, and equality, (c) proper use and display of the American flag, (d) the voting process; and (d) the Pledge of Allegiance." (6:60) "Principles of freedom, justice, and equality" seem like a pretty relevant one to this discussion. And here's a goal of the district from Board Policies: "Continue efforts to instill knowledge of and respect for peers, colleagues, different cultures, and various customs" (6:10). The board will have many policies to change because of you.
David September 18, 2012 at 09:12 PM
The liberal response to everyone who disagrees with their point of view, is to name call and degrade. Lisa V is that really your name? Lisa V you said Darien resident does not use their real name and you post as Lisa V. Lisav are't you the hypercritic. You are condoning a movie to be shown to a 16 year old youth that depicts a gay man murdering a man at his kitchen table by shooting him in the back of the head. Why? Can't I teach my children how to deal with moral questions? What gave the school district the right to teach my kids morals? Mike, you speak of tolerance, but you are intolerant of the view that these movies are inappropriate. The only view is your view, that having an open mind is what you deem appropriate. Not that the parents’ choice to raise his children as he/she sees fit. If I do not want to have my child watch a movie that I deem wrong you think that I a bad person and intolerant or worse. Why is your vision the correct one. Liberals keep using the term respect diversity. Liberals have no respect for conservative values. The "diversity" is the view what the liberals believe. Not a conservative view. If you have conservative values you are a "nut". But the frothing at the mouth are the liberals. Lisa V and Jack are perfect examples. The both of you present your view with anger, name calling and examples of violence to demonstrate what you consider right. I am sorry for your closed minds and anger, I will pray for you.
Jack September 18, 2012 at 11:55 PM
David, One of District 86's policies is: "In all grades, character values must be stressed including: (a) honesty, (b) kindness, (c) justice, (d) discipline, (e) respect for others, and (f) moral courage. (6:60)." This sounds like the board is mandating that teachers must be teaching values. One of the "values" is "respect for others." I interpret "respect for others" as respect for diversity. If your values differ from that, remove your child from District 86 schools or petition board to change that policy. What morals does a student get from watching a "gay man murdering a man." Similarly, should we ban "To Kill a Mockingbird" because it portrays a lynching of a black man? Should we ban "Romeo and Juliet" that ends with a double-teen suicide? Should we eliminate the teaching of Hitler because it shows a murderous tyrant? Should we ban "The Scarlet Letter" because it shows a religious figure as a hyprocrite for fathering a child out of wedlock? Should we eliminate the teaching of psychology in our schools because it portrays being gay as part of the normal spectrum of human sexuality? Should we eliminate the teaching of evolution because we believe that God created Earth and that man did not evolve? All those subjects are dripping with morals and values! Shouldn't we as kids grapple with those rather than ignore them. Bottom line: if you don't like the message, opt your kid out. But don't prevent me for receiving an enlightened District 86 education. "respect for others!"
David September 19, 2012 at 08:54 PM
Jack, From you comment about me removing my child, maybe my child and I should be sent to a camp for people that think like I do. Wow, what an intolerant attitude you have. How silly is it to compare a classic work by Shakespeare to a movie about a man wanting to have sex with his high school daughter’s friend. Is this your modern American Classic? Where does it stop Jack? Does any movie have enough violence or sex for you not to want to show it to young teenagers? You do not answer the questions, what is the "values" or morals that a student learns from a movie that shows a man wanting to have sex with a girl that is 20 years younger than him. Teaching about Hitler, in your world, should include propaganda films that the Nazi's ran. Jack you are the one that has disrespect for my view. You can have your child watch any movie you think appropriate to your "values" do not force them on me and my child. You need to "respect" my view not to have my child watch a movie that has graphic scenes of sex and violence. You have an agenda Jack to "enlighten" everyone to your way of thinking. What respect is that? Why should you ask kids at the age of 16 to be enlighted with a cold blooded murder, and a mans wish to be somthing close to a pedophile? Learning from history and understanding the world is a lot different than a movie that wished to shock its . By the way I liked the movie, it is just not a movie for kids.
Jack September 20, 2012 at 12:18 AM
Warning: Spoilers alert! Okay, I'd be happy to explain the morals in "American Beauty." Here's one: while there is much hatred, intolerance, & ugly people in the world, there is much beauty, which must be appreciated & preserved. My example (apologies to my English teachers if this doesn't sound perfect & for using wikipedia!) is a description of the end of the film from wikipedia: "Lester finds a distraught Angela, who begins to seduce him. After learning that Angela is a virgin, Lester stops and comforts her; the pair instead bond over their shared frustrations. Angela goes to the bathroom and Lester smiles at a family photograph of himself, his wife, and Jane in happier times in his kitchen." So, this guy who wants to have sex with a girl 20 years younger than him (imagine that ever happening?) finally has a chance to do it. But when he discovers that she's pure and innocent, he realizes his folly & decides not to have sex with her. He actually makes a moral choice to do the right thing. Therefore, he respects her purity and innocence - something pretty commendable for a man his age when given that opportunity. After realizing this positive change in morals, he looks at pictures of his family which gives him a happy feeling, thus supporting the idea that a "traditional" marriage can actually be a good thing. He didn't realize the good thing that he had until that moment - which he talks about at the end of the film. Who would disagree with that moral?
Jack September 20, 2012 at 12:33 AM
Want another moral from the film? Sometimes the most ultra-conservative "upright" citizens can be hypocrites who are struggling against their own morals and strike out intolerantly in violent and hateful ways. This could be the moral that you don't want your kid to learn. The most despicable character in the film is a hateful father of a teenage boy. He beats his son when he thinks that his son might be gay. Ironically, this same father makes a gay pass at the main character. When his feelings aren't returned, this father murders the man who rejected him. Does this portray ultra-conservative people as murderers? Nope. But it does suggest that these people are more likely to commit hate crimes. (ever heard of a group of gays and lesbians beating up a heterosexual to death for his or her sexuality?) In fact, this film could be a real-life warning to kids for these types of people. Here's something from today's news: A 54-year-old ultra-conservative gay-bashing minister of the one of the midwest's largest churches is pleading guilty to transporting an underage girl across state lines for sexual activity. Other articles say that he used his religious influence to seduce this girl. Wow, maybe "American Beauty" is a good film to warn young ladies again such hyprocites. http://www.suntimes.com/news/crime/15235177-418/fired-first-baptist-pastor-to-plead-guilty-in-sex-scandal-involving-17-year-old.html
Jack September 20, 2012 at 01:04 AM
While at South, I have had lots of controversial issues in lessons. We did view Hitler's propoganda films to learn about the dangers of being seduced by his strategies. I don't think anybody ran off to be a dictator because of that. We watched "Schindler's List," which contains far more nudity, violence, sex, and disturbing images than either "Brokeback Mountain" or "American Beauty." Is "Schindler" okay because it doesn't contain gays? We read "Romeo & Juliet" which shows a father pawning off his 13-year-old daughter to a much older man (talk about pedophilia!), discusses many graphic sexual details about men's attitudes towards women, & clearly implies that Mercutio has a "gay attraction" to Romeo (see wikipedia again on the evidence by literary experts). You must RESPECT my right to a comprehensive education. You can take your child out of a movie, book, or unit that might disturb your morals. So, I'm not saying that the school should force your child to experience these things. But don't ban lessons that don't coincide with beliefs now held by a minority of Americans (and beliefs that are not supported by science & psychology). I'm going to college in a few months. Don't you trust that my parents have given me a solid education in morals to know what's right & wrong? Don't you trust your own child to make those judgments on his or her own by now? I completely respect your views & your right to them. But don't silence other voices because they don't match your views.
David September 21, 2012 at 03:50 PM
Jack, Jack, Jack, Give the man a medal. The main character decides not to have sex with teenage daughters friend. Wow if that is the moral lesson you just made my argument. This movie is just for entertainment. It has no moral question. You keep bringing other movies up. Clockwork Orange is a movie full of moral questions, would I recomend it for a 16 year, no.
Mike Neberz September 23, 2012 at 03:19 PM
David...I think you need to reread the posts. I do speak of tolerance and I am not intolerant of those who think those movies are inappropriate. You can go back and look, but I clearly stated...if you don't want your kids to watch them, then don't let them watch them. Nothing at all wrong with that. What I DON'T want to see happen is 'one man's opinion' speaking for the group. If a teacher and a school district see the value in a lesson, then respect the experts in their field to teach our kids...the same community you moved into to pay taxes and allow your children to be educated in. Again, don't sign the consent form...that is ALWAYS your prerogative as a parent. I want everyone to have the freedom to make choices...across the board. However, if you limit those choices, before we can make them, then "open-mindedness" never reaches the community, for the decision has already been made...by YOU. Neither of us wants that. :)
Mike Neberz September 23, 2012 at 03:23 PM
Just so you know, David, ...I read AND watched Clockwork Orange in high school in my HONORS English class. And, ready for this, David...I went to Marist High School...a Catholic high school. Hmmmm...sorry to break the bad news to you, but you CAN learn about diversity, culture AND religion all at the same time. Trust your educators...your kids just might learn from them too! :)


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