Florida couple sues 'woke' Catholic school to rescind $1.35 million donation after it 'lost its way'

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A Florida couple is suing a Catholic school once attended by their children in an effort to have their $1.35 million pledge rescinded, saying the school has “lost its way” by embracing “woke culture” and distancing itself from mainstream Catholicism. 

Anthony and Barbara Scarpo announced the pledge in 2017 to the Academy of the Holy Names in Tampa, which their two daughters attended at the time, the Tampa Bay Times reported. They asked that the money be used for the school’s master plan and to provide scholarships for disadvantaged students. 

Four years later, a 45-page lawsuit accuses the school of fraud and giving priority to “gender identity, human sexuality and pregnancy termination among other hot button issues” over Catholic teachings. The Scarpos are also not pleased with the way the school has dealt with race issues and said students were made to feel guilty for being White and for their families having the money to send them to the academy. 

As of 2018, the couple had paid $240,000 toward the pledge and raised more than $9 million for the school. Their ties to the school run deep, the report said. They were named chairs of the academy’s fundraising campaign and the school’s auditorium was renamed the “Scarpo Family Theatre.”

The lawsuit requests the money they gifted be returned and the tuition they already paid be donated to Catholic charities of their choice, according to the Times. 

Their lawyer, Adam Levine, told the newspaper his clients want to see the school return to its roots. 

“It’s about being a voice for people who are not being heard,” he said. “It’s about the failure to deliver on a promise…. This is not asking the courts to get involved in a religious issue, but this is a simple breach of contract. If you’re paying for a Catholic education, that’s what you should be getting.”

When reached for comment by Fox News, the academy called the claims “false and unsubstantiated.”

“We will continue to pray for all parties involved, and, if necessary, we are prepared to defend ourselves in court,” said Emily Wise, a school spokeswoman. 

Fox News has reached out to Levine but has not heard back. 

A letter obtained by Fox News from the academy’s attorney, Gregory Hearing, to Levine said the lawsuit is a publicity stunt based on “frivolous” claims. Hearing said the school may file a counterclaim to get the remainder of the pledge and that Florida law may require them to pay up. 

“We can discern no motivation behind the lawsuit other than attention-seeking by your clients, and a desire by you to build a brand,” Hearing’s letter reads. “For a court to delve into whether the substance of matters taught by a Catholic school are consistent with a Catholic education would entangle the court in excessively religious matters, and thereby violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution.” 

“That we should need to educate you on this is absurd,” he added. 

The academy serves around 970 students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade and an all-girls high school, according to its website. Tuition and fees ranged from $14,650 for pre-kindergarten students to $22,450 for high school students.

The Scarpos claim the school has abandoned mainstream Catholicism, leaving many parents angry. 

“The continued indoctrination of your twisted version of social and racial justice, equity, inclusion, sexuality and today’s politically correct narrative has permeated like a stench through the halls of the Academy and been allowed to seep into the minds of our children, causing stress, anger, guilt and confusion,” Scarpo wrote in a letter to the school upon his older daughter’s graduation, the Times reported.

“You were always eager to solicit our hard-earned money and take what you could but held firm as you dragged dozens if not hundreds of conservative families and teachers through your reimagined, highly progressive world, even as parents and students asked you … pleaded with you to stop, slow down.”

The couple’s other daughter has transferred to another school. 

The lawsuit cites another letter sent from Art Raimo, then-president of the academy, and Ernie Garateix, chairman of the school’s board, about the creation of a justice, equity, diversity and inclusion committee.

It said “rejecting the racism and hatred reflected in the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor … it is imperative we have conversations that are uncomfortable, learn from them, reconcile and grow.”

It also said that “the social teaching of the Church and our participation within this teaching should be at the heart of what guides our work as a community. The well-being of all — staff and pupils — requires the removal of any barriers of prejudice, discrimination and oppression if we are all to strive and realize our full potential as unique and fulfilled human beings.”

The Scarpos said the letter by Raimo and Garateix didn’t recognize harm to White, non-diverse students by making them believe that they and their families are personally responsible for the historic harm(s) some members of our society have visited on other members of our society.”

Wise said the school’s curriculum “is, and always has been, based on Catholic values and rigorous academic standards.” She added: “The Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, the school’s founding order, are dedicated to the full development of the human person through education, social justice, contemplation and the arts.”

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