Should Terrebonne high schools allow PG-13 movies in class? Board will decide Tuesday

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The School Board will decide Tuesday whether to allow Terrebonne Parish public high school teachers to show PG-13 movies to students as part of their classroom instruction.

The issue arose last week during a meeting of the board's Education, Technology and Policy Committee.

As it stands, the district's policy says only G- and PG-rated films can be shown.

Superintendent Philip Martin said in an interview this week that to his knowledge, PG-13 movies have not been shown in the past in Terrebonne classrooms.

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The three-member committee voted to send a proposal to the full board to add PG-13 as an option in high school classes if specific criteria are met. Committee members Matthew Ford and Maybelle Trahan voted to send the measure to the board. Member Debi Benoit abstained.

The board will consider the matter during a public meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 1 in its offices, 201 Stadium Drive in Houma.

The Terrebonne Parish School Board meets Jan. 18 in its office in Houma. The board also held committee meetings the same night.
The Terrebonne Parish School Board meets Jan. 18 in its office in Houma. The board also held committee meetings the same night.

The Motion Picture Association's voluntary rating system classifies movies based on their suitability for certain audiences. G is rated suitable for all audiences, PG advises that some content may not be suitable for children and PG-13 suggests some material may be inappropriate for kids under 13.

Here's what the School Board's current policy says about movies in classrooms:

  • G-rated movies can be shown in all grades without parental approval.

  • Schools must notify parents in writing of any PG movie that will be shown to students and obtain written permission from the parent. The notification must include the movie's title and rating, the date it will be shown and the purpose for showing it.

The last revision came in July 2016, which board member Stacey Solet said was in part to allow PG movies to be shown in school.

Under the committee's proposal, introduced by Ford, the policy would remain the same for G movies.

One change would limit PG movies to grades 5-12 and the other would add PG-13 movies as an option in grades 9-12. The PG-13 movies would require the same stipulation as PG for notifying parents and getting their permission in advance.

In the policy, all audio-visual materials must be previewed first by the teacher, relate to lesson plans and get advance approval from the school principal.

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Ford said he brought up the issue after an H.L. Bourgeois High history teacher Justin Ward wanted to show "Roots," an award-winning 1977 TV miniseries based on Alex Haley's novel chronicling his ancestors from American enslavement to liberation.

The series is rated TV-14, or potentially unsuitable for children under 14, under a separate voluntary rating system established by the television industry. It's considered the equivalent of PG-13.

Ward, who spoke in favor of the change during the Jan. 18 committee meeting, said he tried to show the series around Thanksgiving but was made aware of the policy prohibiting it by a district curriculum specialist.

“Even if there was a G-rated version to teach slavery, I wouldn’t want to teach it,” Ward said.

Ford said his proposal is intended to give teachers another opportunity to help students learn instead of limiting material that could help them deliver important lessons.

"A lot of times it'll resonate with students weeks later, even a year later, it'll hit them, so I think it's important," Ford said.

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Benoit said that while the example provided for the change is a good one, there could be other issues.

“Who’s going to be the custodian of what’s a good PG-13- or PG-rated movie? I mean, let’s face it. Not every teacher has potentially good judgment about this,” Benoit said. “We have had parents that have come before us that have said there are approved books that fifth- and sixth-graders were reading that had topics of incest, abortion and cutting in that literature.”

Solet said parents still have the opportunity to decide whether their children watch the proposed material. If not, the teacher sends the student to another spot at the school with alternative instructional material.

“The only thing I don’t want to fall between the cracks is that the teacher has be held accountable to the strictest standards and the principal needs to follow up,” Solet said. “And every teacher has that permission, and every child has that permission.”

H.L. Bourgeois student Breanna Breaux spoke in favor of the policy change because it can help reach visual learners and get them invested in the material and school assignments.

“Some kids are visual learners," Breaux said, "and it helps with putting things into perspective and actually seeing things.”

This article originally appeared on The Courier: Proposal would allow PG-13 movies in Terrebonne high school lessons

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