The School Board accepts a panel's recommendation. The man who battled it vows to fight on.
By BARBARA BEHRENDT
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 15, 2001
INVERNESS -- The Citrus High School bullfighting mural will stay, despite continuing concerns that the painting depicts a cruel sport focused on torturing animals.
The School Board late Thursday unanimously accepted the recommendation of a county-level media review committee allowing the mural to stay. That committee had echoed the desires of a school-based review committee determining that removal of the 12-year-old artwork would be a censoring of culture.
The mural has been the center of controversy since last summer when Pine Ridge resident Joseph P. Smith asked the school district to remove the mural because bullfighting is cruel and sent the wrong message to students.
At the end of the last school year, as Smith was preparing for an animal-rights protest near the school, school officials told Smith that the student-painted mural would be covered up in regular summer school maintenance. But when new Citrus High School principal Michael Mullen took over, that direction changed.
Smith appealed the school's decision to keep the painting to the School Board, riling one board member. "I thought we had site-based decision making, and I'm angry this is even before us," board member Ginger Bryant said.
But board member Pat Deutschman said the district had properly followed its policies on how to review educational materials that are questioned. She also congratulated Mullen for taking the proper actions to follow the policy.
"It's a process we have, and we have the final say," Deutschman said. "It's nice to have school-based management. But this policy protects the school. It protects the people at the school."
Board Chairwoman Patience Nave noted after the vote that, when she went to the school to see the mural, she even had trouble finding it. To her that was a sign that students weren't very disturbed about the artwork.
Smith said Friday that he saw the board's vote as just the end of the first chapter of the saga. He planned to speak with officials from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to determine his next step.
"I think the problem is that it came down not to whether bullfighting is cruel, which everyone thinks it is. It came down to a question of whether it was censorship of culture," Smith said.
"I have to regroup," he said. "But it's safe to say the first round went to the matador."
- Staff writer Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or 564-3621.