Another day, another example of Florida’s state-backed “parents’ rights” movement superseding the needs of, well, other parents and their kids.
A school in St. Petersburg, Florida removed the Disney biopic of civil rights pioneer Ruby Bridges after a parent complained that the purpose of the movie was “racism” and “teaching [students] racial slur[s].”
The 1998 Disney made-for-TV movie is shown to elementary school students every year as part of Pinellas County Schools’ lessons for Black History Month, according to the Tampa Bay Times, which broke the story. Bridges, now 68, was six years old when she became the first Black student to integrate New Orleans public schools; she was threatened and harassed by white supremacists and had to be escorted to school by U.S. Marshals.
But the parent of a second grader at a school in St. Petersburg filed a formal challenge with the state earlier this month, arguing that the movie about Bridges’ experience wasn’t suitable for young children, according to the Times. And afterward, school officials banned the movie from being shown to students at that elementary school, pending an assessment by a review committee, the Times reported.
The parent, Emily Conklin, said in the complaint that she objected to the use of racial slurs in the movie, according to a copy of the complaint obtained by the Popular Information newsletter. Conklin said she believed the theme and purpose of the movie was “racism,” and suggested the movie would have nefarious effects on kids. In the complaint, Conklin said she thought the result of showing the movie to children would be “teaching them racial slur [sic], how they are different and white people hate black people.”
Conklin also admitted, however, that she didn’t actually watch the entire movie. She watched the first 50 minutes of the 96-minute film, according to the complaint.
Last year, Florida passed a vaguely-written law, championed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, prohibiting classroom lessons teaching that a student “bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress” for systemic racism and sexism.
A separate law, passed last year, mandates that classroom books be “age-appropriate” based on the judgment of a media specialist. In response to the law, at least two counties told teachers to remove their classroom libraries so as to not risk felony prosecution, years in prison, and thousands of dollars in fines, the Washington Post reported in January.
Conklin was unable to be reached for comment, and has deleted her social media accounts.
The president of a local activist education group, Concerned Organization for Quality Education for Black Students, wrote a letter denouncing the removal of the film from the school, according to the Times.
“Many from historically marginalized communities are asking whether this so-called integrated education system in Pinellas can even serve the diverse community fairly and equitably,” Dr. Ricardo Davis reportedly wrote.
St. Petersburg deputy mayor Goliath Davis, a former St. Petersburg police chief, told the Times that Conklin’s challenge “doesn’t make any sense.”
“Think about it,” Davis told the Times. “A 6-year-old girl can go to school every day with armed guards, but second graders can’t learn about it?”
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