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couple is suing a Catholic school once attended by their children in an effort to have their $1.35 million pledge rescinded, saying the school has "lost its way" by embracing "woke culture" and distancing itself from mainstream Catholicism.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. They asked that the money be used for the school's master plan and to provide scholarships for disadvantaged students.
Now 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 traditional Catholic teachings. The Scarpo's have also taken issue with the way the school address race, saying White students were required to "check their white privilege" and made to feel guilty for the color of their skin and because their parents can afford to send them to the academy.
"They were paying $23,000 per year for a Catholic education which they felt strongly about," Adam Levine, the attorney for the Scarpos, 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 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."
"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 added. "It's more about the fact that all of this is done in a vacuum completely separate from anything the church says."
The couple is mostly retired, Levine said. Anthony Scarpo is the owner of a diamond import company, and his wife was listed as a managing partner of First Trust Funding Group, according to a post on the school's website.
As of 2018, the couple had paid $240,000 toward the pledge and raised more than $9 million for the school, Levine said. 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, he said. Levine said his client's attempts to meet with school administrators to address their concerns have been rebuffed.
They were the "face" of the institution due to their fundraising work, he said.
When reached for comment by Fox News, the academy called the claims in the lawsuit "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.
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, said the Tampa Bay Times, which first reported the lawsuit.
The Scarpo's 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. "Clearly a very distorted view of the Bible, the true mission of Sister Marie Rose and our Catholic faith according to the Diocese and in complete violation of what we as parents wanted, expected and paid for."
"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… consider them and their families as well as their long-standing traditional history with the school."
The couple's other daughter has since 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."
"If we are serious about inclusive education in our Catholic schools then we must be concerned with th e quest for equity for all who work within our community," the letter reads. "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 the 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."
The lawsuit said nowhere does justice and righting wrongs requires the absence of a mainstream Catholic education. The complaint cited a letter from another parent about a poster placed inside a school hallway providing information on how to be a better "Ally to the LGBTQ+ community."
"It demonstrates that this school is no longer a Catholic institution," says the letter, riddled with various gender identifies. "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."
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."