Parents ask for Tallahassee Classical board chair to resign over 'David' art lesson firestorm
A local charter school held its first board meeting after the forced resignation of its principal over an art lesson hit international news.
Tallahassee Classical School, a public charter school, had its largest-ever crowd of parents and teachers in the cafeteria for its board meeting on Monday evening. Public comment lasted an hour, with most of the speakers criticizing the board. Some even asked the board chair, Barney Bishop, to resign.
“There’s problems here, and you got rid of a good administrator who was willing to fix the problems. We have to find out through the news,” said a parent during public comment. "You're saying it's not about David, but that's all that’s coming up. Tell us what the problems were.”
More:Tallahassee principal ousted after complaints about Michelangelo's 'David' in art lesson
Some defend principal's ouster; others call for board chair to resign
A few teachers spoke in favor of former principal Hope Carrasquilla’s resignation, alleging the issues with teacher turnover and poor communication were due to her leadership.
"What is wrong with notifying parents in advance that an upcoming topic might be seen as somewhat controversial, leaving it to the parent to decide not whether we teach it, but rather that their child is present during that lesson?" asked one teacher during public comment.
But other parents say the blame for turmoil at the school lies solely with the board's leadership. The majority of those who attended the meeting were upset with administration and Bishop specifically.
“Given the dissatisfaction of all these parents with your leadership, would you be willing to lead us by integrity by resigning?” asked teacher Ben Steigner.
The board did not move to remove Bishop from his position as chair. Bishop said at the meeting his position as chair expires in May, and he will still be on the board for another year.
International incident:Controversy over Tallahassee Classical art lesson sparks teacher, global backlash
Tallahassee Classical Board member commits to 'do better'
The board includes: Bishop, a lobbyist; Tim Qualls, a local attorney; Matthew Mohler, an external affairs special projects Manager for Florida Power and Light Company; Pam Griggs, director of finance for the Foundation for Excellence in Education; and Louis Baptiste, a local attorney.
Baptiste, who joined the board a few weeks ago, told parents and teachers in the cafeteria that he heard their thoughts and concerns.
“You matter; you matter a lot,” he said. “I hear you.”
Qualls thanked all those who attended and said he would strive to be a better board member.
“I can do better, and I will do better,” he said.
Bishop read a statement from the board at the beginning of the meeting and reiterated that “parents rights are supreme,” at Tallahassee Classical.
At the end of the meeting, however, Mohler said otherwise.
“There’s nothing more important in this process than the students,” he said.
More:Controversy over Tallahassee Classical art lesson sparks teacher, global backlash
How the art lesson traveled the globe
New principal Cara Wynn said nine students had withdrawn from Tallahassee Classical since the last board meeting on March 20. Several of those students withdrew because of dissatisfaction with the administration and the resignation of their teacher, Wynn said. The school also enrolled three new students, which brings the total student population to 496.
Last week, Carrasquilla was asked to resign or be fired at a last-minute board meeting – she believes the catalyst for the ultimatum was complaints about an art lesson about the Renaissance period, which showed sixth graders Michelangelo’s sculpture “David” and the "Creation of Adam" fresco painting and Boticelli's "Birth of Venus.”
Parents and teachers were shocked at Carrasquilla’s departure and have demanded answers from the board, including Bishop, who has spoken openly about the decision – first to the Tallahassee Democrat and then to the Washington Post, Slate and other news outlets.
The world reacts:Florence mayor invites Tallahassee, Florida principal to Italy after 'David' controversy
While saying there were "many" other issues with the principal without elaborating, Bishop confirmed to Slate that the art lesson “was an issue” in her forced resignation, and in a Facebook post, confirmed that one parent did think the art lesson was pornographic.
“Parents choose this school because they want a certain kind of education,” Bishop told Slate. “We’re not gonna have courses from the College Board. We’re not gonna teach 1619 or CRT crap. I know they do all that up in Virginia. 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.”
Hillsdale, DeSantis administration say 'David' is OK, distance themselves from controversy
Tallahassee Classical is a Hillsdale College-affiliated charter school. Hillsdale had been continuously advising Tallahassee Classical since the school opened in the fall of 2020 and was an initial selling point of the charter but was dropped as a member school in the spring of 2021 for not meeting improvement standards.
Tallahassee Classical is now only considered a curriculum school.
In a statement, Hillsdale noted that the charter has a license to use their curriculum but they do not advise the school or train teachers or board members.
"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. Generally speaking, teaching classical works of art and displaying images of those works is not unusual in classical education.”
EXCLUSIVE: @EducationFL responds after a principal says she was ousted for a ‘David’ sculpture lesson.
“The Statue of David has artistic and historical value. Florida encourages instruction on the classics and classical art, and would not prohibit its use in instruction.”
— Lydia Nusbaum (@LydiaNusbaum) March 27, 2023
The Florida Department of Education, which has targeted what it calls "age-inappropriate" subjects, also responded, distancing the DeSantis administration from the controversy.“The Statue of David has artistic and historical value. Florida encourages instruction on the classics and classical art, and would not prohibit its use in instruction. The matter at Tallahassee Classical School is between the school and an employee, and is not the effect of state rule or law."
Since Bishop’s comments have gone viral, Tallahassee Classical has been the subject of stories across the globe, including the mayor of Florence, Italy, who has invited Carrasquilla personally to be recognized on behalf of the city.
“Art is civilization and whoever teaches it deserves respect,” said Dario Nardella, the mayor of Florence.
This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Tallahassee, Florida school board faces angry parents over 'David' firestorm