Florida Parents Oust Principal after Sixth-Graders Were Shown Michelangelo’s David

·4 min read

In Florida, the state grabbing education-related headlines for strengthening parental rights and regulating content at many levels, including colleges, parents have ousted a principal after their sixth-graders saw a photo of Michelangelo’s David sculpture.

Hope Carrasquilla of Tallahassee Classical School in Leon County handed in her resignation this week after she was given an ultimatum by the school board: resign or be fired. The chairman of the school board, Barney Bishop III, confirmed to the Washington Post that three parents filed complaints saying the statue and material surrounding it was “controversial” and not age-appropriate for their children. They also complained they had not been notified ahead of time. One parent thought it “pornographic.”

“She wasn’t let go because of the artistic nude pictures. We show it every year to our students,” Bishop said, referring to the school’s curriculum, which is designed to introduce students to the Western cultural tradition. “The problem with this particular issue was the lack of follow-through on the process” — the fact that parents weren’t notified in advance.

Florida’s grade schools have been the subject of fierce national debate. Governor Ron DeSantis signed the Parental Rights in Education law which, aside from strengthening parental rights, prevents instruction on sexuality and gender in early elementary grades. Many on the left have criticized the law, and most media outlets refuse to refer to it by its actual name, preferring to call it the “don’t say gay” law.

However, criticism also has emerged on the right about the scope of government intervention, the difficulty of drawing the line in marginal cases, and whether it’s prudent to encourage increased litigiousness among parents.

“To consider the potential breadth of the law, imagine that a young student asks a teacher why his or her classmate has two mothers or two fathers. If the teacher responds with a factual, value-neutral response, is he opening his school district to litigation?” commentator David French wrote in the Atlantic last year. “After all, answering classroom questions, even when not directly related to the curriculum, fits within the plain meaning of the term classroom instruction.

“The right is now in the process of unlearning liberty. After decades of litigation and legislation, it largely gained what it wanted: a much more free marketplace of ideas. But it is difficult for a commitment to liberty to survive partisan animosity,” French continued.

According to Bishop, DeSantis’s educational agenda is something to applaud strongly. “Parental rights are supreme,” he told the Post.

DeSantis now wants to expand the law from covering children up to the third grade to covering children and young adults through grade twelve. Broadening the law’s purview would also increase complex situations for teachers, administrators, parents, and students to adjudicate.

“There is no reason for instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity to be part of K-12 public education. Full stop,” tweeted DeSantis press secretary Bryan Griffin on Wednesday afternoon, responding to criticism from the White House.

The Florida governor is also attempting to ensure that certain concepts about race, gender, and sexuality aren’t being taught in Florida colleges and universities. The Individual Freedom Act, commonly dubbed the “Stop-WOKE” law, has been criticized by groups concerned with free speech and academic freedom.

Last week, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied a request from the DeSantis administration and higher-education officials to lift an injunction that has not allowed enforcement of the law.

“Professors must be able to discuss subjects like race and gender without hesitation or fear of state reprisal,” said the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, or FIRE, as quoted in Politico.

“Any law that limits the free exchange of ideas in university classrooms should lose in both the court of law and the court of public opinion,” the group said.

When he handed the preliminary injunction, Judge Mark Walker called the law “positively dystopian” and noted that one of the concepts students were banned from being instructed in was effectively synonymous with affirmative action.

Florida argued that the state can regulate instruction in state university classrooms and it can also determine the curriculum.

“Plaintiffs’ First Amendment challenge fails because the Florida Government has simply chosen to regulate its own speech — the curriculum used in state universities and the in-class instruction offered by state employees — and the First Amendment simply has no application in this context,” read the filing from Florida.

FIRE has countered that this argument is at odds with every appellate court to have considered this question.

It also pointed to the admission from Florida that its theory meant that if Florida’s government changed hands, it “could prohibit . . . instruction on American exceptionalism because it alienates people of color and minorities because it suggests . . . that America doesn’t have a darker side that needs to be qualified.”

More from National Review