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Teacher Jailed for Showing Students Horror Movie: Does the Punishment Fit the Crime?

ABCs of DeathAs you’ve probably heard, a substitute teacher in Ohio was recently busted for showing several groups of 14 to 18-year-old students the 2012 anthology film The ABCs of Death, sentenced this past week to serve 90 days in jail for the crime – on top of three years probation.

It’s a very controversial sentence, and the horror community’s reaction to the news has been predictably split down the middle. On one side you have those who agree that the woman broke the law and deserves the punishment, on the other are those who feel the punishment simply does not fit the crime – still others feel no crime was committed.

For those who maybe aren’t familiar with the specific facts of this one, here’s the basic rundown…

Now 58-years-old, Sheila Kearns was brought in to substitute a handful of Spanish classes a couple years back, despite not being able to speak the language. Not knowing what to do with the students in order to hold their attention and pass the time, Kearns selected and put on ABCs of Death, likely due to the fact that several of the shorts are in Spanish.

Kearns swears that she hadn’t pre-screened the movie prior to showing it, and she also swears that her back was to the screen at all times – thereby never allowing her to see for herself just how graphic the movie is. After several students complained, Kearns was caught showing the film to yet another class, at which point she was promptly fired.

Originally, Kearns was facing five felony charges of disseminating materials harmful to minors, and she faced a maximum sentence of five years in prison. The judge ultimately decided that three months and three years of probation would cover it, and he rightfully placed some of the blame on the school – criticizing them for putting Kearns in an unfair position.

Though I planned on keeping quiet about this, as my opinion is one that hangs on both sides of the fence, a recent development has compelled me to get on my soapbox. This week, the producers of ABCs of Death took to Indiegogo in an attempt to raise the funds necessary to pay for Kearns to appeal the sentence, and they’re intent on ‘freeing’ her from prison.

Sheila Kearns

The $15,000 fundraising campaign essentially paints Kearns as an innocent grandmother, indicating that she has “lost her dignity” and “been humiliated” for over two years now, as a result of all this madness. If I’m being honest, reading the campaign’s mission statement left me scratching my head on more than a few occasions, as Kearns isn’t exactly the innocent party here.

The idea of anyone spending time in jail for showing anyone else a movie is admittedly a tad bit silly, and I don’t disagree that a slap on the wrist and a revoking of Kearns’ teaching license would’ve probably sufficed. Is it really necessary that she spend three months in jail, simply for showing teenagers a horror movie? I understand if you can’t answer ‘yes’ to that question.

But here’s the thing. What Kearns did was not only foolish and thoroughly irresponsible, but it was also illegal. According to the law, which I know we all hate and vehemently disagree with, Kearns showing that movie to underage students does indeed fall under the ‘disseminating materials harmful to minors’ banner, and therefore she broke the law – that is simply not an aspect of the story that is up for debate.

A two-hour film that’s loaded with gore, nudity and all kinds of depravity, The ABCs of Death is obscene to the point of being unrated, and though that may be totally cool with horror fans like ourselves, let’s keep in mind that Kearns showed it to kids without their permission and certainly without their parents’ permission – and not just one group, but SEVERAL groups.

And in case you either haven’t seen ABCs of Death or your memory is fuzzy, allow me to remind you that one segment, titled ‘L is for Libido,’ centers on a twisted contest wherein men have to masturbate to increasingly disturbing things – whoever ejaculates first gets to survive and go to the next round. The final round forces them to masturbate to a young boy being touched by an adult.

So yea. Free Kearns. That poor, innocent woman.

Does a movie have the power to corrupt young minds? Hardly. Had many of those teenagers already been exposed to similar obscenities prior to Kearns entering their classroom? Likely. But these things matter very little, in this particular discussion. What Kearns did was wrong, no matter how you slice it, and as the judge pointed out, it’s impossible to believe that she didn’t know what she was doing.

Here in America, when you’re mentally fit to know the difference between right and wrong, and you do something that’s legally considered wrong, you have to deal with the repercussions of that. And that’s why, despite the fact that I may not fully agree with the severity of the sentence, I wholeheartedly DISAGREE with portraying Kearns as the victim, as well as the idea of raising money to correct HER WRONGDOING.

If there’s any victim here it’s the kids who Kearns exposed to an unrated, gratuitous piece of cinema, regardless of how many of them minded being exposed to such obscenity. And that’s why the idea of demonizing the justice system and lobbying to free the wrongdoer, in this particular case, seems completely misguided and worse yet, wholly irresponsible.

As a society we’ve become a little too comfortable in not holding people accountable for their own actions, and we’ve also become too eager to criticize law enforcement and the legal system. While there are certainly times where we should band together and fight the proverbial power by sticking up for what’s right, I have a hard time justifying this being one of those cases.

But that’s my just two cents, and I’m not looking to force my opinion on anyone reading this post. If you feel that Kearns has been wronged here then you should head over to the Indiegogo campaign and either donate to the cause or spread the word. If you feel she should be freed, it is your freedom and your right to express that sentiment and help fight for that goal.

All I ask is that you don’t blindly support this cause on the grounds that you’re fighting the censorship or demonization of horror films. Despite what you may be reading out there on social media, you’re not sticking up for horror so much as you are supporting the idea that human beings shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions. So at least give it some thought, before you click donate.

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If you don't get enough of me here on Halloween Love, you can also find me on Dread Central, iHorror and Shock Till You Drop. Contact me via john@halloweenlove.com.
  • Randy Meyer

    I’m with you on this one. If she never pre-screened the movie, how did she know there were spanish speaking segments in it? I find that a bit hard to believe.