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Visitors flock to see Michelangelo's David sculpture after school uproar in Florida

Visitors stand in front of Michelangelo's David statue in the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence, Italy, on Tuesday. A Florida school principal was forced to resign following parental complaints that an image of the nude Renaissance masterpiece was shown to a sixth-grade art class.
Alessandra Tarantino
/
AP
Visitors stand in front of Michelangelo's David statue in the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence, Italy, on Tuesday. A Florida school principal was forced to resign following parental complaints that an image of the nude Renaissance masterpiece was shown to a sixth-grade art class.

FLORENCE, Italy — Visitors flocked to see Michelangelo's David sculpture in Florence on Tuesday, following an uproar over a Florida school's decision to force the resignation of the principal over complaints about a lesson featuring the Renaissance masterpiece.

Tourists, many of them Americans on spring break or studying abroad, posed for selfies in front of the giant marble statue, which features the Biblical David, naked with a sling over his shoulder and a rock in his hand, ready for battle with Goliath.

Florence's Galleria dell'Accademia, which houses the sculpture, reopened Tuesday after its weekly Monday closure, and both tourists and locals alike couldn't get over the controversy.

"It's part of history," said Isabele Joles from Ohio, who is studying French and Italian art with her school group. "I don't understand how you can say it's porn."

She and other visitors were reacting to the decision by Tallahassee Classical School board to pressure Principal Hope Carrasquilla to resign last week after an image of the David was shown to a sixth-grade art class.

Carrasquilla believes the board targeted her after two parents complained because they weren't notified in advance that a nude image would be shown, while a third called the iconic statue, which is considered the height of Renaissance sculpture, pornographic. The school has a policy requiring parents to be notified in advance about "controversial" topics being taught.

Over the weekend, both Florence's mayor and the museum director voiced incredulity over the ruckus and issued invitations for the ousted principal and the school community to come and see the sculpture for themselves.

"We are talking about the roots of Western culture, and 'David' is the height, the height of beauty," museum director Cecilie Hollberg said in an interview Tuesday, as tourists brushed past her snapping selfies with the statue.

The controversy wasn't only a topic of conversation in Florence. On Monday night in Tallahassee, a large crowd showed up for a school board meeting with public comment on the issue of the David statue controversy lasting over an hour, the Tallahassee Democrat reported. Some parents and teachers criticized the board and even asked chairman Barney Bishop to step aside.

"Given the dissatisfaction of all these parents with your leadership, would you be willing to lead us by integrity by resigning?" asked teacher Ben Steigner.

Visitors gather near a copy of the marble statue of Michelangelo's David in Piazza Della Signoria square in Florence, Italy, on Tuesday.
Alessandra Tarantino / AP
/
AP
Visitors gather near a copy of the marble statue of Michelangelo's David in Piazza Della Signoria square in Florence, Italy, on Tuesday.

Bishop refused, saying he intends to remain as chairman through the end of his term in May and then another year on the board, the newspaper reported. The five trustees are elected by themselves, not the parents, and serve three-year-terms. New Principal Cara Wynn told the school board that nine students had left the school since the David controversy began, but that three had enrolled.

Tallahassee Classical is a charter school. While it is taxpayer-funded and tuition-free, it operates almost entirely independently of the local school district and is sought out by parents seeking an alternative to the public school curriculum. About 400 students from kindergarten through 12th grade attend the three-year-old institution, which is now on its third principal. It follows a curriculum designed by Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian school in Michigan frequently consulted by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on educational issues.

The Florida Department of Education, however, has distanced itself from the controversy and the school's decision.

"The Statue of David has artistic and historical value. Florida encourages instruction on the classics and classical art, and would not prohibit its use in instruction," the department said in a statement. "The matter at the Tallahassee Classical School is between the school and an employee, and is not the effect of state rule or law."

At the museum on Tuesday, tourist Brian Stapley from Seattle Washington said he was sad for the school's children.

"It's one of the most incredible parts of our history," he said as he waited on line to get into the museum. "I feel incredibly sorry for the children that don't get to see it."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press