Florida school removes Disney movie about desegregation after one parent complains
A Florida school has removed the Disney movie Ruby Bridges from its library after one parent lodged a complaint, arguing that the film could teach white children to hate Black children.
The film, which centres on the issue of desegregation, outlines the story of six-year-old Ruby who integrated New Orleans schools in the 1960s.
It has been used during Black History Month lessons in Pinellas County for years, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
The film had never been seen as a problem until this year when parents are able to use their new powers over school curriculums after initiatives by the Florida legislature and Governor Ron DeSantis.
Republicans are increasingly using education as a battleground in its culture war.
A parent at North Shore Elementary didn’t allow her child to watch the film when it was shown earlier this month. She later complained that it was inappropriate viewing for second-grade students.
The formal challenge was filed on 6 March, in which Emily Conklin wrote that the film’s use of racial slurs and the scenes depicting Ruby, a Black girl, being threatened by White students might lead to students learning that white people hate Black people.
School officials banned the film’s use pending a review.
The president of Concerned Organization for Quality Education for Black Students, Ric Davis, wrote in an open letter to the community asking why one parent’s complaint affected all students.
”Many from historically marginalized communities are asking whether this so-called integrated education system in Pinellas County can even serve the diverse community fairly and equitably,” he wrote.
The outcry comes after a previous dispute earlier this year after The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison was banned from high schools after a single complaint from a parent regarding a rape scene unfolding over the course of two pages.
Officials noted that the new state law directs them to “err on the side of caution”.
“The [Pinellas] district’s leadership appears to fear the potential consequences of not acting in the way they have on these two decisions,” Mr Davis wrote. “This approach to challenging times in education in our state raises serious questions about Superintendent [Kevin] Hendrick’s leadership.”
Ruby Bridges was released in 1998. Mr Davis said the film accurately depicts historical events.
“At the highest level of decision-making in the district, they have to have more sensitivity to the diversity of the community they serve, and not overreact because one white person objected to something,” he said. The Times noted that Mr Davis was quick to add that the district shouldn’t overreact to the complaint of a Black person either.
“At the end of the day, we’re one total community and we have to figure out how we work together to make decisions that serve everyone,” he added.
The students in Pinellas district schools are 51 per cent white, 20 per cent Hispanic, 19 per cent Black, and four per cent Asian.
At North Shore Elementary, 57 per cent of students are white, 24 per cent are Black, and 12 per cent are Hispanic.
The former police chief and deputy mayor in St Petersburg, Florida, Goliath Davis, criticized the film being removed in a column in the Weekly Challenger on 19 March.
“Regrettably, the political environment surrounding MAGA Republicans, Mothers of Liberty and Governor Ron DeSantis continues to foster a movement of division, historical denial and instability,” he wrote. “Teachers, for the most part, are confused and fearful. Why shouldn’t they be? Even when they do the right thing, louder voices from the MAGA crowd appear to have the power to get their decisions reversed and possibly get them fired.”
Ms Conklin is the development director at the YMCA of Greater St Petersburg. She was one of two parents who didn’t want their children to see the film.
“Think about it. A six-year-old girl can go to school every day with armed guards, but second graders can’t learn about it?” Mr Davis said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Reagan Miller of the Florida Freedom to Read Project told The Times that “it is distressing to me that one parent has, again, been able to have a resource removed from our schools when the vast majority of parents consented to their children seeing the film”.
The Independent has reached out to Ms Conklin for comment.