Documents obtained by CNN and school officials show that a film about a Black 1st grader who integrated a white elementary school in the South, is currently being reviewed in a Florida district. A parent had objected to its use of slurs in the movie and claimed it would teach children that "White people hate Blacks."
A parent of a student in the second grade at North Shore Elementary School in St. Petersburg, Florida filed a complaint on March 6, requesting that the 1998 film 'Ruby Bridges" be removed from the list of school-approved films. Isabel Mascarenas of Pinellas County Schools told CNN that the film was shown on March 2, as part a Black History Month, to 60 second graders.
The parent, who's name was redacted from the complaint that CNN received, stated in his letter that the film is inappropriate for second graders, and is better suited to an eighth-grade American history course. The parent was upset by the racial slurs in the movie, as well as depictions of children putting a noose on a doll and characters threatening to hang themselves.
The parent claimed that the film taught students racial insults, "how they were different" and that "White people hate Black People."
Mascarenas, citing district policies regarding contested instructional material, said that after receiving the complaint, "the school will engage in a formal objection process to evaluate the challenged materials."
She said that the movie is still in the library of all district schools.
The teaching materials used in Florida's schools have become increasingly controversial as Republican legislators have sought to restrict lessons and tools that deal with race, gender and sexuality. One of the bills that resulted is one signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida's Department of Education-trained media specialists are required to approve or vet all books for classroom libraries.
Mascarenas explained that two weeks before the movie would be shown to the second graders of North Shore Elementary, the parents were sent permission forms along with the trailer for 'Ruby Bridges.' She said that the parent who lodged the objection was one of two families who chose not to have their children watch the film.
Mascarenas stated that the parents were informed of the fact that there would be no more showings in the current school year, as the film had already been shown.
Ruby Bridges was six years old when she became the very first Black student at William Frantz elementary school in New Orleans, on November 14, 60. Bridges was flanked by four federal marshals as she passed an angry crowd of Whites hurling insults and protesting Bridges' presence. This happened after a federal court ordered the desegregation of New Orleans public schools, six years after Brown v. Board of Education made racial discrimination in schools illegal. This film is a dramatic retelling her story.
Toni Ann Johnson is the screenwriter of the film. She told CNN that she thinks second graders can watch the movie as long as their teacher provides historical context and answers their questions. She said that teachers across the nation have told her that the film is a valuable teaching tool.
The reason I believe that the second grade is not to young is because by that age children can recognize racial difference. Ruby was six years old when William Frantz became desegregated, Johnson said.
Johnson stated that if children of 7 and 8 year olds are old enough to understand the meaning of the N-word, they can and should start learning about the history and racism of this country.
She said that parents who do not want their children to be taught this story should have the option to opt out. But they shouldn't have the right prevent teachers from teaching Ruby Bridges to other children who are receiving an education in public schools.