On Thursday, the Tallahassee Democrat reported that the principal of a local charter school, the Tallahassee Classical School, was forced to resign after three parents complained about an art teacher showing a picture of Michelangelo’s 16th-century sculpture of David. “Parental rights are supreme, and that means protecting the interests of all parents, whether it’s one, 10, 20 or 50,” the chair of the school’s board, Barney Bishop III, told the paper. To figure out exactly how this happened, I called Bishop, who is also, according to his biography, a consultant, a lobbyist, an “outspoken advocate for the free enterprise system,” and an Eagle Scout. Our conversation has been edited for clarity.
Dan Kois: Why did the board make the decision to remove the principal of the school?
Barney Bishop III: Well, like all the reporters I’ve talked to today, the premise that you’re operating from is incorrect. We didn’t remove her. She resigned. She’s an at-will employee by contract, as are all our teachers. 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. Without cause. We have the right to do that under the contract.
So it’s safe to say she resigned under pressure from the board.
So why did the board make that decision?
As I said in the Tallahassee Democrat, based on counsel from our employment lawyer, I’m not going to get into the reasons. But this wasn’t about that one issue. That’s not the entire truth, and she knows it. The fact is, I have been working with her since she became principal, and I have supported her as principal. But as I saw how things were going, how decisions were being made, I made the decision this was the best thing for the school.
You’re saying this wasn’t about an art teacher showing Michelangelo’s David.
We didn’t even discuss that issue at the special board meeting on Monday morning.
Just to be clear, last year you sent a notice to parents warning them that students were going to see Michelangelo’s David?
Yes. This year, we made an egregious mistake. We didn’t send that notice. Look, we’re not a public school. We’re a public charter. Parents, after they saw all the crap that’s being taught in public schools during COVID, decided of their own that they didn’t want their children to be taught that. Here we teach the Hillsdale Curriculum, focusing on civic and moral values. We teach a traditional, Western civilization, liberal classical education. And if there’s controversial topics or subjects, we tell parents in advance. We’re going to be sensitive to everybody at the school.
I tend to think of a classical education as being the mode in the 17th, 18th century, where you study the Greeks and Romans, and Western civilization is central. A tutor or teacher is the expert, and that teacher drives the curriculum. You’re describing something where it seems the parents drive the curriculum. How does your classical education differ from the classical education as I think of it?
What kind of question is that, Dan? I don’t know how they taught in the 17th, 18th century, and neither do you. You live in New York?
I lived in New York when I got the cellphone, many years ago. Now I live in Virginia.
Well, we’re Florida, OK? Parents will decide. Parents are the ones who are going to drive the education system here in Florida. The governor said that, and we’re with the governor. Parents don’t decide what is taught. But parents know what that curriculum is. And parents are entitled to know anytime their child is being taught a controversial topic and picture.
Parents choose this school because they want a certain kind of education. We’re not gonna have courses from the College Board. We’re not gonna teach 1619 or CRT crap. I know they do all that up in Virginia. The rights of parents, that trumps the rights of kids. Teachers are the experts? Teachers have all the knowledge? Are you kidding me? I know lots of teachers that are very good, but to suggest they are the authorities, you’re on better drugs than me.
You’ve got a 212 number. That’s New York.