Hope Carrasquilla, the principal of Tallahassee Classical School in Leon County, Florida, resigned this week after an emergency school board meeting. Carrasquilla offered her resignation after she was given an ultimatum by the board to resign or be fired. Although she was not given a reason for her dismissal, she believes complaints from parents over an art lesson on Michelangelo’s “David” statue played a role in what happened. Some parents believed that the Renaissance masterpiece was pornographic material and not age-appropriate for their children.
Barney Bishop III, the chair of the school board and a lobbyist, confirmed that he gave Carrasquilla an ultimatum following complaints from three parents who believed the material on “David” was “controversial”. Bishop told The Washington Post that Carrasquilla “voluntarily resigned” and that there were several issues with the principal, including not notifying parents ahead of time that their children would be shown the Renaissance statue. Bishop, however, did not explain why he asked Carrasquilla to resign on the advice of the school’s lawyers.
Tallahassee Classical School, which follows a curriculum from Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian institution in Michigan, is required to teach Renaissance art to sixth-graders. The lesson on “David” also included images of “The Creation of Adam” fresco painting and “Birth of Venus” by Botticelli. Carrasquilla acknowledged in her resignation letter that she did not notify parents about the lesson before images of “David” were shown in class. The former principal noted that while two parents were bothered by not being notified, one parent thought their child was being exposed to pornography.
Florida has been a particular hotspot for education debates in recent times, with Governor Ron DeSantis enacting several bills on education, including one that limited education on gender identity and sexual orientation to fourth grade and above and another that prohibited certain ways of teaching about race. Among the bills filed in recent weeks by Republican lawmakers is House Bill 1069, which would grant parents greater power to read over and object to school instructional materials and limit their child’s ability to explore the school library.
Tallahassee Classical School opened in the fall of 2020, and its mission was “to train the minds and improve 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.” The school had been advised by Hillsdale College, which has raised money by pushing back on what the institution describes as “leftist” academics teaching a “biased and distorted” view of U.S. history, according to the New York Times. Hillsdale College dropped Tallahassee Classical last year as a member school for not meeting its improvement standards, but the Florida school regained its curriculum status.
Critics of the Republican-led bills argue that they are an attempt to whitewash history and stifle free speech in schools. The controversy surrounding the resignation of Carrasquilla has further fueled the debate over academic freedom and the role of parents in shaping what their children learn in school.
According to the National Coalition Against Censorship, incidents of censorship and book banning in schools have risen sharply in recent years, with challenges to books featuring LGBTQ+ characters and themes among the most common. The group says that censorship can harm students by depriving them of exposure to diverse perspectives and limiting their critical thinking skills.
The controversy over the Michelangelo statue also highlights the ongoing debate over what is considered appropriate material for students in schools. While some parents may view the statue as pornographic, others argue that it is a valuable work of art that can teach students about history, culture, and aesthetics.
In a statement to The Post, Carrasquilla expressed her disappointment at the board’s decision to force her resignation and called for a greater dialogue about the role of parents in shaping education policy. “I hope that we can all work together to create a school environment that is inclusive, respectful, and enriching for all students,” she said.
The Tallahassee Classical School has not yet commented on the controversy surrounding Carrasquilla’s resignation. The school’s website states that its mission is to provide students with a “classical education in the liberal arts and sciences” and to teach them the “principles of moral character and civic virtue.”
The debate over academic freedom and censorship in schools is likely to continue, as parents, educators, and lawmakers grapple with the challenges of providing students with a well-rounded education while also respecting their individual beliefs and values.