School district administrators for Lincoln Elementary School in Hyrum, Utah fired art teacher Mateo Rueda on December 8 for showing his fifth and sixth grade students classical art postcards, a few of which displayed nude figures.
On December 4, Rueda circulated in his class about 100 of the 800 postcards featuring classical paintings from an educational set called "The Art Box" from the school library for a color study exercise. The cards include works by Van Gogh, Claude Monet, and Leonardo Da Vinci.
According to the Herald Journal, Rueda said he was unaware that three or four featured nude figures, among them "Iris Tree" by Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani and "Odalisque" by 18th-century artist Francois Boucher.
"There were some pictures that were a little weird, and most kids were laughing," fifth grader Bella Jensen told Fox13.
Some students were okay with the classical nude paintings, but a few others expressed discomfort and approached Rueda about the cards. He promptly removed them and discussed the issue with his students.
A few days later Rueda learned that some parents had complained to the school and someone even called the police, alleging the art teacher had shown his students pornography. Police called aff the investigation after prosecutors determined the images were not pornographic.
School administrators initially suspended Rueda for a few days, but then sent him a termination letter. "In a Friday meeting, they gave me two choices: to resign, accepting their terms of my alleged wrongdoing (eliminating any possibility to voice my opinion in the future), or to be terminated with a scathing and defamatory letter," Rueda wrote to a supportive parent, Kamee Jensen, which she posted to her Facebook page.
Rueda is appealing the decision and has requested a hearing to clear his name, the Washington Post is reporting.
The issue wasn't exclusively with the nude postcards themselves, but that Rueda, according to one parent whose son was in the class, belittled his students for some of their reactions.
"He said Mr. Mateo even told the class, 'There's nothing wrong with female nipples. You guys need to grow up and be mature about this,'" Venessa Rose Pixton told the Herald Journal.
Rueda denied making that statement, and said he told his students that art sometimes portrays images that are uncomfortable to the viewer and that context is important.
"I did say that when you grow up, you're going to find yourselves going to museums or to places where unavoidably there's going to be nudity," Rueda said, according to The Herald Journal.
Jensen told Fox13 the whole situation was blown out of proportion and that her daughter is upset that her art teacher is in trouble.
Blown out of proportion is right. Even had Rueda said what Pixton alleges, it hardly seems reasonable to fire him. It is possible school administrators fired Rueda in an attempt to avoid the controversy of employing a teacher accused of showing his students "pornography."
If that was the plan, it clearly backfired.
It is little comfort to know there were no criminal charges filed against Rueda. The police should never have been called in the first place. What kind of world do we live in when classical paintings featuring stylized nude figures are interpreted as pornography?
Photo Credit: jean louis mazieres/flickr