By Daniel Politi
An elementary school in Cache Valley, Utah fired an art teacher after claiming that students became uncomfortable by postcards that depicted classical paintings, a few of which contained nudity. One parent even called the police, accusing the teacher of showing the students pornography.
The saga began when Mateo Rueda had fifth and sixth-grade students do a color study exercise. In the last few minutes of class, Rueda had students go to the library and look through art books and boxes of postcards so they could select which paintings best exemplified the color relationships they had been studying. That’s when Rueda realized that some of the postcards, which he claims had been in the library long before he started teaching there, included some nude paintings, including Iris Tree, by Amedeo Modigliani, François Boucher’s Brown Odalisque, and The Valpincon Bather by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres.
“I was surprised about those images being there,” Rueda told the local Fox affiliate. He took some of the nude pictures back and then went through the pack to remove paintings he thought were inappropriate. Still, he explained to the students that nudity in art is normal.
“I explained to the whole class that art can sometimes show images that are not always comfortable to all, that art is better understood when placed in its proper context, that the human body is often portrayed in art, and that the images in the school collection are icons of art history and a patrimony of humanity,” Mateo wrote in a message to a parent that was shared on Facebook.
Some students, however, expressed discomfort with the paintings and Rueda allegedly encouraged them to discuss things with their parents. But some of the parents then proceeded to complain to the school, which fired Rueda on Dec. 8, four days after that fateful class.
One anonymous school official told the local Herald-Journal that the firing had more to do with the way the teacher talked about the nudity than the nudity itself. One parent said that’s what she complained about. “It wasn’t the pictures so much that really bothered me; it was the method in which he went about it afterward,” one parent said. Rueda denies he did anything inappropriate beyond explaining to students that if they ever go to a museum seeing some nudity in paintings could be unavoidable.
The local sheriff’s office looked into the case after a report was filed and they took the postcards. But the county attorney decided not to file charges because, well, the paintings weren’t actually pornography.