A Utah art teacher, Mateo Rueda, was fired this month after parents called the school and made complaints against him after he showed images of classical paintings that contained nude and partial nude images, according to Fox News. Rueda displayed the images to a classroom of fifth and sixth-grade children.
Mateo taught art at Lincoln Elementary in Hyrum, Utah and said that he has every intention to appeal his termination to clear his reputation.
Rueda said that the classical art nude images that he handed out during a school lesson were displayed in a set of educational postcards that he retrieved from the school’s library.
The two images that were seen by the fifth and sixth-grade students at Lincoln Elementary were the Impressionist-era portrait Iris Tree by Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani and the Rococo-style portrait Odalisque which contained partial nudity by 18th-century artist Francois Boucher. Also included in The Art Box was Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, as well as work from Vincent Van Gogh, Claude Monet, Paul Klee, and other notable artists.
Rueda explained to Fox 13 News that he was “surprised about those images being there.”
Mateo added that he went through the educational postcards and took out the ones that he felt were inappropriate for the students.
At the request of the school district, Cache County deputies found Principal Jeni Buist shredding the postcards that contained nudity, according to Sheriff Chad Jensen.
“She said she was putting the postcards and paintings in the shredder at the request of the school district so they wouldn’t be distributed again.”
One mother of one of a student in one of Rueda’s art classes, who wished to remain anonymous, told Fox 13 that she was “not happy with how Rueda handled his explanation with the kids.” Parent Venessa Rose Pixton, who has an 11-year-old son who attends the school, said she’s upset because Rueda belittled students.
“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.”
However, Rueda has denied making those comments. Mateo told the Herald Journal, “No, that did not happen.”
“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.”
Lincoln Elementary fifth grade student, Bella Jensen, was in Rueda’s class and said he explained to her that their lesson, which took place on December 4, may make the class feel uncomfortable. Jensen said that her friends laughed at some of the paintings but overall, they enjoyed the project.
“Mr. Mateo explained to us that there might be some pictures that we’ll find uncomfortable… There were some pictures that were a little weird, and most kids were laughing.”
According to Rueda, some students and their parents still felt that the images were inappropriate.
“Children were expressing their discomfort and then explaining that they felt it was inappropriate.”
Mateo Rueda made an attempt to explain the images were art and encouraged the students to speak with their parents about the paintings that they saw. However, one of the parents called the police and claimed that Rueda had shown pornography to the students.
Four days after complaints were made to the school, Rueda was issued a termination letter from the school. Bella told Fox 13 that she was “super upset” when she heard that Mateo was fired. Bella’s mother, Kamee Jensen, was also upset when she discovered news of Rueda’s termination.
“The images that he showed the children were provided by the school district.”
Jensen also wrote a letter to the Herald Journal and defended Mateo and said that her daughter was not offended by the art images.
“The school sent out an email to parents asking if children were upset by what happened in class. I asked my daughter if she ever felt uncomfortable, and she said no. She was just very upset that her teacher was in trouble.”
Rueda said that he was, in fact, “bewildered” by the situation and doesn’t know if he could be hired back to be an art teacher.
The Cache County Sheriff’s Office said they investigated the complaint made by one of the art students parents, but did not press charges because the images were not considered pornography.
“We got some of the pictures and showed them to the County Attorney’s Office, and they said these wouldn’t meet the definition of pornography. They declined to file charges.”
The Cache County School District declined to comment on the termination of Mateo Rueda and stated that it was a personal matter.