The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Fla. parent files complaint about second-graders watching ‘Ruby Bridges’

The parent said the film isn’t appropriate, claiming it might teach students that ‘white people hate black people’

U.S. deputy marshals escort 6-year-old Ruby Bridges from William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans in 1960. (AP)
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Ruby Bridges talked in the late ’90s about the importance of Disney making a movie about how, as a first-grader, she became a civil rights icon by wading through a White mob to integrate an elementary school in the South in 1960.

“I think it’s important to look at this film to see what a 6-year-old child had to go through, what a family went through just to be able to have the same privileges as everyone else,” she told the Florida Times-Union. “… I think ideally that people will think about that and do everything they can not to pass prejudice on to their children.”

Now, more than six decades after Bridges endured that treatment, the parent of a second-grader at North Shore Elementary in St. Petersburg, Fla., filed a formal objection against the film after it was played in her child’s class as part of a Black History Month lesson, as first reported by the Weekly Challenger. In the complaint, the parent said the film isn’t appropriate for second-graders because it might teach them that “white people hate black people.”

The movie has been part of Black History Month lessons at Pinellas County Schools for years and hadn’t caused problems until now, the Tampa Bay Times reported. But recently, Florida and dozens of other states have been enforcing laws that are making it easier to remove books and other materials from school libraries and to suppress certain lessons on race, gender and sexuality, as The Washington Post has reported.

Few legal challenges to laws limiting lessons on race, gender

This year, the Pinellas County district incited controversy by banning Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye” from all district high schools because a parent complained about a two-page rape scene, according to the Times.

The Times reported that Ric Davis, president of the Concerned Organization for Quality Education for Black Students, wrote an open letter saying some members of the community were questioning whether the district could serve minority 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,” Davis wrote, according to the Times.

In mid-February, North Shore Elementary sent a permission slip to parents asking whether their children could watch “Ruby Bridges,” which is standard procedure for movies rated PG, district spokesperson Isabel Mascareñas wrote in an email. Two families opted their children out, and on March 2, a teacher showed the movie to about 60 second-graders.

Four days later, one of the parents who’d chosen not to have their child watch the film filed a formal objection with the district. The parent listed several racial slurs in the movie that they felt were inappropriate for second-graders to hear, including the n-word. The parent also listed a scene where adults scream, “I’m going to hang you!”

The parent said the movie was more appropriate for an eighth-grade American history class and asked that the district remove it from the list of films approved for elementary schools.

Officials told the parent that because the class had already watched the movie, the school would not show it again this school year, Mascareñas wrote. Officials will review “the challenged material,” although Mascareñas said there’s no timeline on when that review will be completed.

On Monday, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) called the situation an example of the state trying to “erase history.”

“How can it be that a black child once needed police escorts to attend class,” Wasserman Schultz wrote in a tweet, “yet students today must be shielded from this truth?”