“It is with a sad heart that my tenure as principal of Tallahassee Classical School has come to an end,” she wrote Thursday in a letter to the school board obtained by the Washington Post.
Barney Bishop III, the school board chairman and lobbyist, confirmed to The Post that he gave Carrasquilla an ultimatum after three parents complained that the material about “David” was “controversial” and not age-appropriate for their children. Bishop, who didn’t say why he asked Carrasquilla to resign on the advice of the school’s lawyers, told the Post that there were several issues with the principal, including failing to notify parents in a timely manner that their children would be shown the Renaissance statue .
“She wasn’t let go because of the artistic nudes. We show it to our students every year,” Bishop said, adding that Carrasquilla “resigned voluntarily.” “The problem with this particular issue was the lack of tracking of the process.”
Tallahassee Classical, which follows a curriculum from Hillsdale College, the conservative Christian Michigan institution that helped found dozens of “classical” charter schools nationwide, is required to teach Renaissance art to sixth graders. The lesson with “David” also included images of the fresco paintings “The Creation of Adam” and “The Birth of Venus” by Botticelli.
Carrasquilla admitted in the letter to the school board that she had not informed parents about the class before pictures of “David” were shown in class. The former principal noted to the Democrat that two parents were upset about not being notified, but one parent thought their child was being exposed to pornography.
Her husband, Victor Carrasquilla, in a brief phone call in the Mail, rejected the school board’s move to force his spouse out, describing his wife as “a strong evangelical Christian” who should not have been forced to resign.
The parental backlash to “David” comes at a time when the K-12 and the state’s higher education may be reshaped by a spate of new Republican-sponsored bills championed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a potential Republican presidential nominee were 2024.
Since the pandemic, debates have raged across the country about what and how children should be taught about race, racism, gender and sexual orientation and the rights of transgender students — as well as the appropriateness of books available in school libraries and classrooms. Although the conflict has touched at least half the country and inspired 25 states to pass 64 laws that reshape what kids can learn and do in school, Florida has been a particular flashpoint. DeSantis has garnered national political attention and praise for his uncompromising stance on eradicating what he calls “awakened” left-leaning ideologies from schools.
DeSantis enacted two high-profile education laws: one that restricted education about gender identity and sexual orientation to fourth graders and above, and another that banned certain types of teaching about race. DeSantis and his education department also rejected an Advanced Placement course on black history, stating it had no educational value and promoted left-wing political and social views.
Among the bills introduced by Republican lawmakers in recent weeks is House Bill 1069, which would give parents more powers to read and object to school study materials, as well as limit their child’s ability to explore the school library. The bill, sponsored by State Rep. Stan McClain (R), would also mandate that sexual health education, such as health education, sexually transmitted diseases and human sexuality, “occur only in grades 6 through 12.” The proposed sexual health bill gained attention last week after McClain admitted the proposal would ban girls from talking about their menstrual cycle at school.
Florida law would ban young girls from talking about school days
When Tallahassee Classical opened in Fall 2020, the K-12 school stated on its website that its mission was “to train the minds and improve the hearts of young people through content-rich classical education in the liberal arts and sciences instruction.” in the principles of moral character and civic virtue.” Tallahassee Classical was advised by Hillsdale College, which has raised money by pushing back what the institution describes as “left-wing” academics who hold a “biased and distorted” view of the Teach US history, according to the New York Times. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas once called Hillsdale College “a shining city on a hilltop,” and the school hired his activist wife, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, to help establish a full-time presence in the nation’s capital .
Hillsdale College dropped Tallahassee Classical as a member school last year for failing to meet its improvement standards, but the Florida school has regained curriculum status.
Hope Carrasquilla, a longtime resident of Tallahassee, was named director of Tallahassee Classical less than a year ago after serving as dean of curriculum and instruction. The school celebrated her 27 years of teaching experience, including 10 years of classical teaching experience, in her bio, which has been removed from the Tallahassee Classical website.
“She looks forward to shaping the hearts and minds of the young scholars at Tallahassee Classical School to make our community and country a better place,” the biography reads.
Art lessons for sixth graders also included Michelangelo’s ‘David,’ a sculpture created between 1501 and 1504 by one of the greatest artists of the Renaissance and has long been a symbol of the strength and independence of the Florentines, according to the Galleria dell’ Accademia di Firenze , home of the statue in Florence.
Bishop said he didn’t think “David” was controversial, noting that he studied Renaissance art in Italy 50 years ago. He added that while 97 percent of parents would have no problem with art classes, Bishop stressed that parents’ rights and concerns about what their children are being taught take precedence over what he thinks about the classes.
“I listened to what the parents had to say and was in constant contact with them, but I didn’t ask what was controversial and I know I won’t change their minds on that,” he said.
The lack of communication with parents is part of a series of issues against Carrasquilla, Bishop claimed, saying he was under no obligation to deal with the former headmaster. However, some parents were surprised when an urgent board meeting was called at the last minute for 7am Monday to decide Carrasquilla’s fate, saying it was part of a larger “paradigm shift” at the school.
“It feels like the school is becoming part of an agenda,” Carrie Boyd, a mother of two at Tallahassee Classical, told the Democrat.
Bishop, who said that classes about “David” would continue to be taught at the school with proper notification to parents, did not back down that the school is aligned with DeSantis’ vision for education in the state.
“I salute the governor and we support the governor on his education agenda in Florida,” Bishop told The Post. “Parents’ rights are paramount”
Critics like Jen Cousins of the Florida Freedom to Read Project, which is fighting textbook challenges in the state, told The Post that the director’s ousting represents unnecessary censorship of classical art.
“It’s more like the same hyperbole that limits our children’s education,” Cousins wrote in a text message. “Are visual arts the next thing on the chopping block in Florida?”
Tallahassee Classical announced to parents this week that Cara Wynn would be the interim principal, the school’s third principal since opening, Bishop said.
In her letter to the board, Carrasquilla said the issues with the board run much deeper than concerns about “David,” and urged school leaders to comply with the state’s Sunshine Act to regulate proper public gatherings in cases like hers .
“I have always wished well for Tallahassee Classical School,” she wrote. “I’m not interested in promoting myself or any political agenda.”
As the story unfolded this week, many online watchers noted that “The Simpsons” long ago predicted what a parental backlash against Michelangelo’s famous statue would look like. Some pointed to the character Kent Brockman’s question about “David” as a summary of what happens on Tallahassee Classical: “Is it a masterpiece or just a guy with his pants down?”
Valerie Strauss contributed to this report.