This story has been updated with additional commentary provided by Hillsdale College regarding its curriculum content.
The line between art and pornography is at the center of an education dispute after a Tallahassee charter school principal resigned, following accusations that middle school students were shown inappropriate adult content.
At issue? Students in the school were shown images of a Renaissance period sculpture, the “David,” leading to complaints that the children were shown pornographic material.
Tallahassee Classical School, a private institution focused on “training the minds and improving the hearts of young people through a content-rich classical education in the liberal arts and sciences, with instruction in the principles of moral character and civic virtue,” gave its principal an ultimatum to quit or be fired after three parents complained, according to reports by the Tallahassee Democrat.
The “David” is a Renaissance Period sculpture, depicting biblical hero David, of the famous David and Goliath tale, holding his sling in the nude and standing at over five meters tall. The statue itself is currently on display in Florence’s Galleria dell’ Accademia. The artwork was sculpted by Michelangelo Buonarroti in the early 1500s.
Principal Hope Carrasquilla, according to the Democrat, resigned Monday after the school board chair told her to resign or be fired. Chair Barney Bishop confirmed to the Democrat that he gave Carrasquilla that ultimatum, but would not explain why due to “advice” from the school’s attorney. Parents were informed by email on Monday.
According to further reporting on the topic by the Huffington Post, the issue, at least in part, was that a protocol to inform parents in advance of showing similar types of artwork was not sent out to sixth-grade parents before the lesson, due to “miscommunications.”
Bishop told the Tallahassee Democrat that the notification policy at Tallahassee Classical was relatively recent, and required a parental notification two weeks before “potentially controversial” materials are shown.
Speaking with HuffPost, Bishop said that the sculpture issue was “one of multiple,” involving Carrasquilla. He also told the news organization that he was lobbying for legislation to give parents even more control over students’ primary education, saying that “parental rights trump everything else,” and saying that the parents who complained “didn’t like the woke indoctrination that was going on.”
Parental rights, as related to Florida education and curriculum, has become increasingly politicized over the past several years, with public debate and argument on the topic headlining multiple news stories related to teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity, COVID-19 masking policies, and critical race theory, among others.
State officials, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, have prioritized changing Florida laws and educational curriculum to remove so-called indoctrination at every level of education.
The current legislative session in the state legislature has multiple education and curriculum-focused bills going through both chambers at this time, including bans on CRT degrees in higher education, and moves to make school board elections partisan.
According to the Tallahassee Classical site, the school is affiliated with private Christian institution Hillsdale College, which has made news in recent months as a model Florida officials want to use to reformat Sarasota’s New College of Florida. Hillsdale has reportedly been advising the charter school since it opened in fall 2020, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.
Following the story’s more widespread coverage, Hillsdale College issued a statement.
“Hillsdale College and its K-12 Education Office do not serve in an advisory capacity to Tallahassee Classical School. Hillsdale is not involved in advising or training the teachers, board members, or school leaders at Tallahassee Classical,” Emily Stack Davis, executive director of media relations and communications, Hillsdale College said in part. “Tallahassee Classical has a license to use Hillsdale’s K-12 scope and sequence, but Hillsdale does not oversee how schools use or depart from these materials.”
Continuing her statement, Davis said “teaching classical works of art and displaying images of those works is not unusual in classical education. Education is a cooperative endeavor between students, parents, and teachers. Discretion, good judgment, and prudence are essential for that endeavor to be successful.”