Parents and students are protesting the apparent removal of a beloved Santa Monica High School arts teacher over nude photos students took of classmates exposing their bare arms and backs.
The teacher, Allan Barnes, departed two months ago after a Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District employee found the series of portraits on the school district's server, parents said at a district Board of Education meeting Thursday night.
The photos were shot on campus and uploaded to a classroom computer. Officials would not say whether Barnes was fired or if he resigned.
Barnes did not immediately return messages requesting comment.
The photos included one picture of two teenage students naked and hugging, according to the student photographer, 17-year-old Carina Ramirez. She said she had uploaded the photos to edit and use solely in a portfolio for college applications. Ramirez said she snapped other nude portraits that were displayed in a student art show and that had garnered approval from the high school's principal.
All of them followed Barnes' guidelines, she said: "No nips, no pubes."
But when Ramirez went to retrieve the photo from the art show, she said the chair of the school's art department told her it had been confiscated. Shortly after that, she learned her other photos meant for the college portfolio had been found on the server, and Barnes was replaced by a substitute teacher.
The photo on exhibit "was very well received by the parents and students," said Marianne Borgardt, whose daughter, a senior, was a student in Barnes' class. "Clearly the students involved were doing what all thoughtful, challenging teenagers do: dancing close to the defined limits while exercising their artistic muscles."
Borgardt, who with other parents said she has been in contact with Barnes, said when he was approached by administrators, Barnes had suggested using his next class periods to cover photography and the law.
"But this was never allowed to happen," she said.
Borgardt, Ramirez and about a dozen other students and parents, many of them artists themselves, asked for Barnes reinstatement at the Board of Education meeting.
Superintendent Sandra Lyon said she could not comment on personnel matters.
Santa Monica High Principal Laurel Fretz did not attend the board meeting and did not return a message requesting comment. She told June Stoddard, a parent of twin girls, both seniors, by email on Jan. 24 that she would not discuss the case, but said Barnes' departure would not be reversed.
"Unfortunately, there is nothing I can share with you regarding this employee’s confidential situation, and there is nothing you can tell me that will change the decisions that have been made regarding the class. In this area, I am going to ask you to trust me," Fretz said.
In a letter to parents of photography students dated Jan. 17, Fretz wrote: "as you may know, we currently have a substitute teacher in photography, as Mr. Barnes has been out... Mr. Barnes has indicated he will not be returning next semester."
Parent Don Farber said his daughter "was really blossoming in [Barnes'] class until this debacle... This draconian step of firing him is overkill, and the ones suffering are the kids."
Ramirez said she began shooting nude photos about a year ago. "I'm really into the human form and I'm into creepy photos," she said. "I focused on backs, ribs and bones. I never thought they would be taken the wrong way."
Although she asked permission to use the on-campus studio to take the photo of the naked teenage couple hugging, she said Barnes was not aware of the nature of the shoot.
"In part, Mr. Barnes was blamed for not knowing what was going on in the three separate areas of his classroom at all times, a physical impossibility for him or any other teacher," said Borgardt.