The principal of a Florida charter school was given an ultimatum by her school board to resign or be fired after parents complained that middle school students were shown “inappropriate” adult content in class.
What was the controversial material? Michelangelo’s David.
The 600-year-old sculpture is one of the most enduring symbols of Italy’s Renaissance period and shows the biblical David before his storied face-off against Goliath. The towering five-metre-tall David was sculpted without clothes, an example of the “heroic male nude” trope of classical antiquity that depicted heroes in idealized forms.
The idea of what an ideal form looks like has changed a lot since Greco-Roman times. Clearly, David’s nude depiction was a little too revealing for the Tallahassee Classical School, despite their emphasis on “content-rich classical education in the liberal arts and sciences.”
After complaints from three parents that the middle-schoolers were exposed to inappropriate content by their art teacher, Principal Hope Carrasquilla was pushed to resign.
According to school board chair Barney Bishop in an interview with Slate, Carrasquilla was shown two letters in a meeting with him last week.
“One was a voluntary resignation, and another a letter that said if she decided not to resign, I was going to ask the board to terminate her without cause. Without cause. We have the right to do that under the contract,” he said.
Carrasquilla resigned on Monday, “no question,” due to the board’s pressure, Bishop said.
Bishop added that the showing of David in class wasn’t the only reason behind Carrasquilla’s ousting, but declined to mention further details citing counsel from the school board’s employment lawyer. He noted that the issue around Michelangelo’s sculpture wasn’t so much about the nudity, but that certain protocols were ignored when it was shown in class.
“Gosh, we’re a classical school. Why wouldn’t we show Renaissance art to children?” Bishop told Slate.
“Last year, the school sent out an advance notice about (David). Parents should know: in class, students are going to see or hear or talk about this,” Bishop said. “This year, we made an egregious mistake. We didn’t send that notice.”
Bishop explained that at the Tallahassee Classical School, parents wishes reign supreme.
“Parents, after they saw all the crap that’s being taught in public schools during COVID, decided on their own that they didn’t want their children to be taught that,” he said. “Here … we teach a traditional, Western civilization, liberal classical education. And if there’s controversial topics or subjects, we tell parents in advance.”
“Parents will decide. Parents are the ones who are going to drive the education system here in Florida,” Bishop added.
Carrasquilla told the Huffington Post that, due to a series of “miscommunications,” the letter to inform parents about what types of artwork would be shown in class was not sent out to the Grade 6 parents. She noted that other parents and faculty members were upset that she was pushed out and have reached out to support her.
The Tallahassee Classical School is affiliated with Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian institution that has helped set up a network of public charter schools to fight “leftist” and “distorted” teachings, the Huffington Post reported.
In a statement to Global News, Hillsdale College clarified that it does not advise or train teachers and board members at the Tallahassee Classical School. The Florida charter school has a license to use the Hillsdale K-12 curriculum, “but Hillsdale does not oversee how schools use or depart from these materials,” said Emily Stack Davis, executive director of communications for Hillsdale College.
“It is important to note that Hillsdale’s K-12 science curriculum covers human reproduction and anatomy in the fifth grade. Hillsdale’s K-12 art curriculum also covers Michelangelo’s ‘David’ sculpture and other works of art that depict the human form,” Davis said.
“Generally speaking, teaching classical works of art and displaying images of those works is not unusual in classical education.”
In 2022, Tallahassee Classical School lost its affiliation to Hillsdale for not meeting improvement standards, though they later regained it, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.
Bishop doubled down that the school aims to protect the “rights of parents.”
“The rights of parents, that trumps the rights of kids. Teachers are the experts? Teachers have all the knowledge? Are you kidding me? I know lots of teachers that are very good, but to suggest they are the authorities, you’re on better drugs than me,” he said.
In recent years, the issue of parental rights in Florida’s education system has been increasingly politicized and used to discourage discussion of certain topics within the classroom.
For instance, the Parental Rights in Education Act, popularly known as the Don’t Say Gay bill, was passed last year by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and restricts discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity with primary school students. Earlier this week, it was reported that DeSantis was looking to extend the bill’s reach to all Florida students until the end of high school.
A separate sexual health bill in Florida could be signed into law soon that would restrict discussions of periods and menstruation in school until Grade 6, even though many young girls get their periods before that age. The bill would also restrict discussion of human sexuality and sexually transmitted diseases.
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