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|Nick Nolte||Alex Jurel|
|JoBeth Williams||Lisa Hammond|
|Judd Hirsch||Roger Rubell|
|Ralph Macchio||Eddie Pilikian|
|Allen Garfield||Carl Rosenberg|
|Lee Grant||Dr. Donna Burke|
|Richard Mulligan||Herbert Gower|
|Royal Dano||Ditto Stiles|
|Morgan Freeman||Al Lewis|
"They fall asleep in class. Throw ink on each other. Never come in Mondays. And they're just the teachers."
The film opens with a typical Monday morning at John F. Kennedy High School; "typical" events including a fight between teachers, a student with a stab wound and talk of an upcoming lawsuit. We meet haggard Vice Principal Roger Rubell (Judd Hirsch) and clueless Principal Eugene Horn, as well as stuffy lawyer and former JFK alumna Lisa Hammond (JoBeth Williams), who is in charge of taking depositions for the Calvin case, in which a recent graduate is suing the school for giving him a diploma despite his illiteracy.Alex Jurel (Nick Nolte) is a veteran Social Studies teacher who takes his job lightly despite being one of the most popular teachers in school because of his ability to identify and connect with the students. Jurel has been worn down by years of being in-between the rowdy students and the demands of the administration. He is assigned to temporarily take over the duties of the school psychologist (who started a fight in the office) and meets a young man named Eddie Pilikian (Ralph Macchio) to whom he becomes a mentor. During this time, a romance also develops between Jurel and Hammond, his former student.The major plotline centers on the Calvin lawsuit, with Superintendent Donna Burke (Lee Grant) and school lawyer Al Lewis (Morgan Freeman) attempting to avoid bad publicity associated with the case. To this end, they try to figure out which teachers will potentially damage the school's reputation in their depositions. Intertwined with the major storyline are Jurel's efforts to reform Pilikian into a student who believes in himself.A number of minor plotlines deviate from the primary goings-on. These include Herbert Gower (Richard Mulligan), an outpatient from a mental institution who is accidentally put in charge of a U.S. History class and makes it fun, educational and engaging; gym teacher Mr. Troy’s sexual relationship with one of Jurel's students Diane Warren (Laura Dern) that ends with Jurel taking her to an abortion clinic, and the death of Eddie Pilikian’s best friend Danny (Crispin Glover), a schizophrenic and kleptomaniac student who is shot and killed by the police after he draws a gun from his locker during a drug search.At the climax of the film, the administration recognizes the threat Jurel poses to their social standing and forces him to resign before his deposition. After harsh criticism from Lisa, as well as her streaking down the school hallway naked (an allusion to Jurel's earlier accusation that she was unable to walk down the school halls 'naked' and see its true troubles), he finally stands up to Burke and Rubell, reminding them that the school exists for the students and not for the administration and its unions. He also threatens a lawsuit should he be fired. He proudly walks back into the school, with loud cheers from the school's students and Lisa looking on proudly.