Art Teacher Fired After Parents Say Nude Paintings Shown in Class Are 'Pornography'


An art teacher in Hyrum, Utah, is demanding an apology from his school district after he was fired for showing children "pornography" in the classroom. The teacher, who showed his elementary-aged students a few classical European paintings, claims he was wrongfully terminated by the school. But the outraged parents of many of the students in his class disagree.


Mateo Rueda taught art at Lincoln Elementary School for grades kindergarten through sixth. Earlier this month, Rueda allowed fifth and sixth graders to sift through a set of about 100 postcards featuring famous works of art. The lesson was meant to help students better understand color theory, but many were distracted by a few cards in the stack that contained nudity.

In some of the paintings, breasts and bare buttocks could clearly be seen. Rueda claims he didn't know the nude paintings were in the stack before allowing his students to view the cards. "Children were expressing their discomfort and then explaining that they felt it was inappropriate," Rueda told Fox 13.

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The "offensive" cards showed paintings like Amedeo Modigliani's Iris Tree.

Au Luc Gallery

Another featured François Boucher's Odalisque.


Rueda removed the cards from the deck, but also says he tried to use the incident as a learning opportunity for his students. He explained to the class that nude art, even if sometimes uncomfortable, shouldn't be seen as wrong. According to Fox 13, Rueda encouraged his students to go home after the lesson and discuss the paintings with their parents. Ultimately, this is what led to his termination.

Concerned parents flooded Lincoln Elementary School and the Cache County School District with complaints about the lesson. One even contacted the Cache County Sheriff's Department and filed a pornography complaint against Rueda.

In their official investigation, police determined the postcards had been purchased as teaching materials by Lincoln Elementary long before Rueda began working there, and the cards that contained nudity did not meet the requirements to be classified as pornography. 

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Still, by the end of the week Rueda had been fired and the school's principal, Jeni Buist, sent an email to parents taking full responsibility. "As principal, I apologize for the concern this has caused with students, parents and staff," reads a copy of the email obtained by the Salt Lake Tribune. "I have personally addressed the impacted classes and offered an apology on behalf of Mr. Mateo to the school."

Parents tell the Salt Lake Tribune they're more angry about Rueda's attempts to use the incident as a teaching moment than they are about the paintings themselves. Benji Christensen, whose has a fifth grader at the school, says his daughter was "distressed" by the incident and felt like she'd done something wrong. "[Rueda] essentially told them 'I don't care if you guys don't like it, I'm going to do it anyway,'" he said. "That is what irritated me. I was fine with it being artwork and a mistake, but he put out there that 'I'm going to show this to you whether you like it or not.’"

Some parents took to social media to share their discomfort with Rueda's lesson. 

Many more, however, were angered by the teacher's firing, going so far as to call the school's actions "disgusting."

In the wake of his termination, Rueda has met with the Cache County School District to discuss a settlement agreement. While the details of this agreement have not yet been released, the teacher told the Salt Lake Tribune he hopes the district will issue an official apology to him so that he can continue teaching outside of Lincoln Elementary School without the scandal attached to his name.

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