Anthony and Barbara Scarpo – who were named chairs of Academy of the Holy Names' fundraising campaign – pledged their gift at a 2017 fundraising gala to fund the school's master plan and scholarships for disadvantaged students. But they recently filed a 12-count, 45-page lawsuit demanding that their pledge be rescinded and the tuition for their two daughters be returned. The suit alleges fraud and a lack of fidelity to Catholic teaching.
"The school, they charge, has 'lost its way' by distancing itself from mainstream Catholicism and embracing a divisive 'woke culture' where priority is given to 'gender identity, human sexuality and pregnancy termination among other hot-button issues,'" the Tampa Bay Times reported.
"The lawsuit makes clear the couple's displeasure with the way the school has dealt with issues of race, saying students are made to feel guilty for being white and having enough money to attend the academy."
The lawsuit – which was filed in Hillsborough County Circuit Court – is also calling for the academy to be kept from advertising itself as a Catholic institution and asks the Florida Catholic Conference to end the school's accreditation.
Paying for a Catholic education, not progressive indoctrination
The mostly retired couple – who own a diamond and jewelry import company and the First Trust Funding Group – are accusing the school of pushing divisive racial politics; and they pulled their younger daughter out of the exclusive academy after the graduation of their older daughter.
The Scarpos accuse the school of defrauding them by going against Catholic values, which was elaborated in a letter Anthony Scarpo wrote to the school after their daughter graduated:
"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," he wrote, according to The Western Journal.
"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."
Not about the money, but the principle
The Scarpo's attorney, Adam Levine, argues that the family did not get what they paid for – a Catholic education.
"They were paying $23,000 per year for a Catholic education which they felt strongly about," Levine told Fox News. "Over the last couple of years, the school has embraced the new woke culture, and the Scarpos don't really object to teaching the kids about almost anything, but [what] they object to is the teaching of kids in the absence of what the church says – or in the absence of the church's positions."
The attorney argued that the school is acting as if it is a law unto itself with no accountability to the church or the parents for its secularized curriculum that flies in the face of biblical teaching.
"It's really not about the Scarpo's being opposed to teaching kids about gender or race or sexuality, or who you chose to marry," he continued. "It's more about the fact that all of this is done in a vacuum completely separate from anything the church says."
As of 2018, the Scarpos had paid $240,000 toward their pledge, having raised more than $9 million for the school – but their attorney assures the court that the couple is not concerned about the money, but about the school returning to its Catholic roots.
"It's about being a voice for people who are not being heard," Levine said, according to the Times. "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."
Yet Tampa lawyer, Gregory Hearing, is discounting the lawsuit as a publicity stunt and says the academy will consider filing a counterclaim if the Scarpos move forward:
"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 wrote in a letter to Levine, according to the Times.
"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."
A spokeswoman for the school, Emily Wise, explained that because the case is pending, the academy cannot discuss the details of the suit, but she called the claims "false and unsubstantiated":
"[The school's curriculum] is, and always has been, based on Catholic values and rigorous academic standards, including education, social justice, contemplation and the arts, with a focus on women, children, poor and marginalized people," Wise emailed, according to the Times. "We will continue to pray for all parties involved, and, if necessary, we are prepared to defend ourselves in court."
A letter from the former president of the academy, Art Raimo, and the chairman of the school's board, Ernie Garatiex, was cited in the lawsuit, as the men wrote about the creation of a justice, equity, diversity and inclusion committee:
"[R]ejecting 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," the letter reads, according to Fox News. "If we are serious about inclusive education in our Catholic schools, then we must be concerned with the quest for equity for all who work within our community."
But instead of preaching the social gospel, it was argued by another parent in a letter cited in the complaint that the biblical teachings upon which Catholic education is based should be present in the curriculum. The parent specifically took issue with a poster placed in a hallway inside the school that presented information on how to be a better "Ally to the LGBTQ+ community."
"It demonstrates that this school is no longer a Catholic institution," the letter stated, according to Fox. "When I made the decision to send my daughter (female, non-male, Cis-gender) to the Academy of the Holy Names, I thought I had chosen a Catholic education – one that would follow what the Church teaches and not fall prey to the politically popular movements of the day."