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Citrus High to cover controversial mural

The 12-year-old mural for a Spanish class had drawn the wrath of a local resident and an animal-rights group.

By BARBARA BEHRENDT

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 22, 2001


INVERNESS -- The costumes had been ordered and plans for a mock bullfight, complete with fake blood, were in the works. Bus loads of animal-rights activists were said to be heading to Citrus High School for a protest demonstration this week.

photo
[Times photo: Ron Thompson (2000)]
A mural depicting a bullfight, pictured here at the start of the school year, was painted by students more than 12 years ago and had not received any complaints until recently.
On Monday, school district officials headed off the planned confrontation. All it will take is a little paint.

Since the start of the school year, Pine Ridge resident Joseph P. Smith has been pushing the school to erase or paint over a student-painted bullfighting mural in teacher Dorothy Zay's room. The mural was painted by students more than a dozen years ago and depicts a Spanish matador and a bull.

Despite being bombarded with gruesome pictures of bloody bullfights and strongly worded letters from Smith and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) condemning the blood sport, Principal Gary Foltz has stood his ground. He argued that the painting was done by students, had not brought complaints previously, and was an illustration of Spanish culture.

But Smith's argument was simple: Bullfighting is a cruel and ugly sport in which people torture an animal to death.

Kristie Phelps, campaign coordinator for PETA, wrote a graphic letter to Foltz on April 20 describing the specific ways bulls are tortured. She urged school officials to find a more positive depiction of Spanish culture.

"In this era of violence, we must ask, should we be sending kids the message that it is acceptable to torment and kill an animal for entertainment?" Phelps wrote. "Bullfighting is a tradition of tragedy that should have been relegated to the pages of history long ago."

On Monday, the animal-rights activists learned that they had prevailed. Director of Student Services Bonnie Hardiman said the mural will be painted over this summer as part of scheduled remodeling at the school.

"We won," Smith said. "But it's a small victory. (The mural) is a man with a knife in his hand ... and he is going to kill an animal. That doesn't belong in a school."

Hardiman said she cannot say whether the decision to paint over the mural has anything to do with the threat of the protest. She said it might have been a part of the renovation plan all along.

But Smith credits the victory to the fact that PETA had been planning a major animal rights demonstration in the vicinity of the school this week and notified Superintendent David Hickey of their plans.

Several bus loads of protesters were expected and two people were going to don costumes as a bull and a bullfighter.

They were going to stage a mock bullfight complete with fake blood.

Hardiman said she contacted Smith on Monday to find out more details about the supposed demonstration to see if it might pose a safety risk. Smith explained that the whole activity could be easily averted if the school would just get rid of the mural.

Smith said he was glad that the mural would be obliterated because students don't need more messages of violence than the ones they already see.

"It's a man with a knife in his hands being portrayed as a hero," he said. "That's my beef."

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