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Disney film 'Ruby Bridges' is up for review in Pinellas after a parent's formal complaint

U.S. deputy marshals escort six-year-old Ruby Bridges from William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans in November 1960.
U.S. deputy marshals escort six-year-old Ruby Bridges from William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans in November 1960.

The Disney movie "Ruby Bridges" has been a standard for years in Pinellas County public elementary schools.

The movie illustrates a 6-year-old’s journey of integration during the 1960s in New Orleans. It is shown once a year around Black History Month.

But recently, the movie has made national news from reports that it was banned from an elementary school in Pinellas County.

The Pinellas County School Board said about 60 students were shown the film on March 2. Two weeks before, permission slips went home with students giving parents the option to opt out of participation, according to a statement given to WUSF.

Two parents from North Shore Elementary opted out of participating, with one parent filing a formal complaint to the district against the movie.

"It was communicated with the parent that the school would not have any future showings during this school year as the movie had already been shown," the statement said.

It added that "Pinellas County Schools (have) not removed the movie 'Ruby Bridges' from all schools. The movie remains available through the district’s licensed movie library."

Goliath Black, former St. Petersburg police chief and deputy mayor, wrote an article in The Weekly Challenger that said the book had been banned.

After meeting with Pinellas Superintendent Kevin Hendrick on Thursday morning, Black said he learned "it was a problem of miscommunication and not a problem of process."

Black said his article was based off an email from the district to the parent who made the complaint indicating the book would be discontinued in k-5 curriculum.

"I'm taking him at his word that there was a miscommunication and the (movie) wasn't banned," Black said. "But based upon all the evidence that I had, it clearly indicated that the (movie) had been banned."

Black still believes "Ruby Bridges" should be shown to students.

"The film is history. It's factual. It's actual. It occurred," Black said. "You can't distort, change, or eliminate history, for the sake of not, quote, unquote, making white children feel guilty."

Pinellas officials said they received the objection to "Ruby Bridges" prior to the district's spring break and "the school will now engage in the formal objection process to review the challenged material," according to the statement.

Copyright 2023 WUSF 89.7. To see more, visit WUSF 89.7.

Meghan Bowman