ST PETERSBURG, Fla. — A film about a black elementary school student who revives an all-white Southern elementary school is being investigated by a Florida school district after parents objected to the film's use of profanity, claiming it could teach students that "skinned people" white hates black people", according to school officials and CNN documents.
Parents of sophomores at North Shore St. Elementary School. Petersburg filed a formal complaint on March 6, demanding that the 1998 film Ruby Bridge be removed from the school's list of approved films. This came after the film was shown to about 60 classes as part of a lesson during Africa Family History Month on March 2, said Isabelle Mascarreñas, a spokeswoman for the school district. de Pinellas, said CNN.
The parent, whose name was redacted in a copy of the complaint provided to CNN, wrote that the film was unsuitable for sophomores and would be more appropriate for an eighth grade US history class. Some parents protested the racial slurs used in the film, the depiction of a child putting a noose around a dummy's neck, and the character threatening to hang himself.
The father wrote that the film could teach students about racial slurs, "how different they are" and that "white people hate black people".
Upon receiving the complaint, "the school will participate in a formal appeals process to review the disputed material," Mascarreñas said, citing the district's policy on disputed educational material.
According to him, the film was not removed from all schools in the district and is still kept in the district's film library.
The curriculum in Florida schools has become increasingly controversial as Republican state legislatures pushed to limit classroom and teaching materials related to race, sexuality, and gender. The resulting legislation includes a bill signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis last year that requires books in classroom libraries to be pre-approved through materials or reviewed by trained media specialists, the Florida Department of Education.
Two weeks before the film was shown to second graders at North Shore Elementary School, a consent form with a link to the Ruby Bridges trailer was sent to the students' parents, Mascareñas said. The parents who appealed were one of two families that decided not to allow students to see the film, he said.
"Parents have been told that there will be no school screenings this school year because the film has already been shown," said Mascareñas.
The film's namesake, Ruby Bridges, was 6 years old when she became the first black student to attend William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans on November 14, 1960. Surrounded by four federal agents, Bridges made her way through mobs of angry white people. who scorned and protested. Its presence after New Orleans' school desegregation was ordered by a federal judge — six years after the Supreme Court ruled that public schools should be segregated in Brown v. Board of Education. This film is a theatrical presentation of the story.
Toni Ann Johnson, screenwriter for the film, told CNN she thinks sophomores aren't too young to see the film if their teacher can provide historical context and answer their questions. Teachers across the country told him the film was a "valuable educational tool," he said.
"The reason I think second grade isn't too young is because kids that age already see the difference in race. Ruby was 6 when she broke away from William Franz," Johnson said.
"When kids are old enough to be called the N-word and learn what it means, I think sophomores 7 and 8 years old can and should start learning about the history of racism in this country," Johnson said. .
"Parents who don't want their children to learn these stories in public schools should have the right to choose not to," he said. "But they shouldn't have the right to prevent teachers from teaching the Ruby Bridges stories to other children who receive a public school education."