Michelangelo's "David" gets a stamp of disapproval in Florida. (edit Valentina Di Liscia/Hyperallergic)

A Florida principal has resigned under pressure from the school board after three parents complained that an art teacher had shown Michelangelo’s statue of the biblical shepherd “David” (1501–1504) to their 11- and 12-year-old sixth-graders. One parent even said the famous artwork was “pornographic.” The art teacher’s lesson was part of the curriculum’s mandatory unit on Renaissance art.

Now the Board Chair of the Tallahassee Classical School — a public and free charter institution — is using the resignation as an opportunity to advocate for “parents’ rights,” a conservative talking point that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis codified with the 2021 “Parents’ Bill of Rights.”

“Parental rights are supreme, and that means protecting the interests of all parents, whether it’s one, 10, 20, or 50,” Board Chair Barney Bishop III told the Tallahassee Democrat.

Principal Hope Carrasquilla had worked at the Tallahassee Classical School for less than a year and announced her resignation at an emergency school board meeting on Monday, March 20. In a contentious interview with Slate, Bishop refuted the notion that the board had fired Carrasquilla. “We didn’t remove her. She resigned,” Bishop said.

But Carrasquilla did not have much of a choice.

“I went to her last week and offered her two letters. One was a voluntary resignation, and another a letter that said if she decided not to resign, I was going to ask the board to terminate her without cause,” Bishop told Slate, saying that he legally could not cite the reason for her ousting. Both Bishop and Carrasquilla alluded to a strained relationship between the principal and the board chair.

Tallahassee Classical School declined to comment for Hyperallergic‘s story. Carrasquilla could not be reached for comment.

Since passing the “Parents’ Bill of Rights,” Florida lawmakers have restricted discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in elementary classrooms and required schools to notify parents of upcoming material that may not be “age appropriate.”

Bishop, who did not respond to Hyperallergic’s immediate request for comment, explained to the Democrat that the school should have sent a notice about “David” because the board requires parents to be alerted of “potentially controversial” material. (Under the regulation, parents can then review lessons before they are taught.)

Bishop called the school’s failure to alert parents about the 16th-century masterpiece — arguably one of the most well-known sculptures in the world — an “egregious mistake” in his interview with Slate. The art teacher requested a notice be distributed (Bishop said one was sent last year), but Carrasquilla did not finalize it, which she called an administrative oversight.

In addition to serving as the charter school’s board chair, Bishop owns a “strategic public relations” consulting company. In his website bio, Bishop describes himself as a “lobbyist” (since 1979) and quotes a newspaper that called him “a business lobbyist icon.”

It appears Bishop has not sacrificed his political inclinations to serve at the helm of the Tallahassee Classical School. He explained to Slate that his charter school (which teaches a “traditional, Western civilization, liberal classical education”) was started in 2020 after parents “saw all the crap that’s being taught in public schools.”

“We agree with everything the governor is doing in the educational arena. We support him because he’s right,” he told the Democrat, criticizing the “woke indoctrination going on about pronouns and drag queens.”

While the Tallahassee Classical School happens to be run by an ardent DeSantis fan, Florida conservatives are working to make “parents’ rights” impossible to ignore. Legislators are trying to expand restrictions on gender and sexuality discussions all the way through grade 12, and First Lady Casey DeSantis is leading a charge to increase parental involvement in classrooms even further.

“[Bishop] was more concerned about litigation and appeasing a small minority of parents,” Carrasquilla told the Democrat. “Rather than trusting my expertise as an educator for more than 25 years.”

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.