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Art Teacher Departs After Students Shoot Nude Photos

Santa Monica High School teacher Allan Barnes' departure followed discovery of the portraits on a computer server. Students and parents, protesting Barnes' removal, say the pictures were for a college application portfolio.

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.

Carl Hamilton February 17, 2012 at 05:27 PM
I guess the only possible wrongdoing was the photos being taken on school property/uploaded to a school server? But even that is a stretch. The photos showed nothing more than what you'd see at the beach. If the teacher was indeed fired over the artistic expression of his students then it is quite a shame.
Internet Wimp February 17, 2012 at 06:33 PM
When people in positions of power refuse to show their cards and when they tell the community they serve to "just trust me ", they are abusing their authority and destroying trust.
Jane Bellomy February 17, 2012 at 09:08 PM
Freedom of expression aside, which I believe is overused and abused in today's cultural climate, these are underage students given unsupervised privileges on a public school campus - there are still boundaries of responsibility and common sense, and it is up to the school administration and staff to exercise those. As we've seen from the recent Miramonte debacle in LAUSD (as only one example), we're not doing a very good job of protecting our children and youth, and that should be paramount, even in the name of "artful expression".
CVB February 17, 2012 at 10:12 PM
Jane, What a shame you take such a close minded approach to this issue. To compare what happened at SMH with the horrible abuses at LAUSD is comparing a crime with an oversight. Look at the intent in each case. You think all HS kids are supervised whenever on campus? Wake up. CVB
Marianne Borgardt February 17, 2012 at 11:50 PM
First and foremost a teacher can best supervise and guide his or students through a relationship of trust and mutual respect. Mr. Barnes had established just that kind of relationship with his students, evidenced by their unanimous support and enthusiasm for the subject he taught. No one person can supervise the distinct area of a photo studio and review the hundreds of uploaded photos each day. His best chance of guiding his students was to use this as a teachable moment and give the lecture the admin never allowed him to give regarding photography and the law, or even develop the guidelines which the administration felt were needed. Let's be fair about this. My daughter, who is in AP Art has no such guidelines in that class, and has used nudes in the portfolio which got her into program to begin with. The best way to protect our children is to give them good guidelines and by demonstrating fairplay at work. Many of these students are 6 months away from being out in the big, bad world themselves. Having a mentor like Mr. Barnes is a good a way as any to prepare them for that world.
Stodj February 18, 2012 at 01:00 AM
Fear has been the rule in this district, fear of litigation. Why don't we have a proactive approach. Mr. Barnes is a passionate, dedicated, tireless teacher who has always had the best interests of his students at heart. I see this as a learning moment for our whole community. We need Proactive Expansive wisdom rather than Fear to help keep our creative students growing and learning, rather than learning that if they create those creations will be harshly judged and their teacher will disappear.
lee ballard February 18, 2012 at 06:24 AM
Sad news for SamoHi. Where did all the artist move to now that the corporate Kooks bought up the town?Look around you at all the violence in media your children are exposed to constantly and the silly school is worried about some semi nudes a senior took. That would be laughable if it was not simply stupid.
Debra Gerhardt February 18, 2012 at 07:22 AM
Mr. Barnes is an outstanding and extraordinarily dedicated teacher! If they are going to fire him over mismanagement of his classroom, which is divided into three separate areas, then every teacher, administrator and board member needs to be fired any time an unfortunate or questionable incident occurs in their classroom, school campus or offices and charged with mismanagement! Since it's a known fact that all types of illicit behavior has happened on the Samohi campus, perhaps we should begin by firing the principal for not managing her school!
Debra Gerhardt February 18, 2012 at 07:37 AM
Additionally, I highly doubt the outcome would have been the same if Mr. Barnes had been a female teacher.
Jane Bellomy February 19, 2012 at 04:50 AM
Thank you for your input CVB - guess it's easier to take potshots when you can hide behind a set of letters instead of using your real name. My point still stands - it IS the responsibility of the SMMUSD leadership, including the principal all the way to the school board and superintendent, to be in charge of what happens on every school campus (the only reason I used Miramonte as an example, not to make those incidents equal in any way!). This does not take away from the excellence of Mr. Barnes as a teacher, and it's very unfortunate that timing did not allow for the lecture on photography and the law. The head of my dept. when I was just beginning in teaching passed along very wise advice: establish you leadership in your classroom from Day One. No, you cannot have your eyes on every student at all times, and that's where trust needs to be established. It's truly too bad that the photography and law class was not begun at the start of each semester, thus giving the students a critical thinking head start on their decision making.
FCD April 14, 2013 at 09:44 AM
To be a teacher these days is to submit to blind target practice!

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