LAND O'LAKES — Fourth-grader Quentin Ferrer loves his designer backpack.
But the silver image of a scantily clad woman and a snake on the black canvas has caused an uproar at Richey Elementary School.
The parent of a kindergartner complained about the image to a school secretary. The secretary told the boy's teacher, who informed principal Ken Miesner, who told Quentin's family on Friday that the backpack was inappropriate for school. Miesner said the boy no longer could bring the backpack, which he had carried to school for nearly two years without incident.
That message did not go down well with Fred Ferrer, Quentin's dad.
He challenged Miesner's backpack ban, first with the principal, then with the superintendent and finally, on Tuesday, with the School Board.
The backpack art does not depict violence, sex or drugs, Ferrer told the board. It does not graphically show any body parts, either. Only one parent complained, he said, and the school picked sides.
"I won't back down," Ferrer said. "No disrespect intended. I am fighting for something I believe in."
Board chairman Allen Altman gave Ferrer much longer than the usual three minutes to present his case. But after listening, Altman told Ferrer that the board would not intervene.
"We give great responsibility to the principals, and we also give them great authority" when it comes to enforcing the district dress and appearance policy, Altman said.
The other board members agreed.
Altman suggested Ferrer have Quentin use a different backpack for a while, until the board could consider whether the policy needs revision. Ferrer rejected that idea, countering that his boy should be allowed to have his pack until any review is completed.
"I have made it clear to you. My son is taking his backpack," he said. "This is going to turn into a circus. I can promise you that. This is ridiculous."
In Miesner's view, the damage already has been done.
Although no one complained about the backpack before, he said, now a parent has.
"Now that it has been brought to my attention, it has become my responsibility," Miesner said. "It's not appropriate attire, especially in an elementary school."
The discussion has snowballed into the classrooms, particularly in light of the growing controversy.
"It is becoming a distraction throughout the school," Miesner said. "It has to be addressed."
If Quentin brings the backpack to Richey Elementary, Miesner plans to take it and keep it in the office. The school will provide a different backpack for the boy to use during the day, he said.
Fred Ferrer deemed that proposal censorship and said he would fight it, too. After talking to the board, he bought a patch that says "censored" to attach to the backpack for his son to carry in school.
"I got it on there just to mess with them," he said, adding that he had hoped the School Board might have taken action where the principal would not.
Ferrer said Quentin loves the backpack so much the kid refused to get a new one. He added that his son told him he was prepared to be suspended from school over the issue — even though the principal said it wouldn't come to that.
"He decided he wanted me to fight," he said. "If we win, great. If we don't, maybe he will look for … some other designer backpack that nobody else in the school has."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.