PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla - Tattoo artist Walter Smith arrived at Pinellas Prep at around eight Thursday morning. He had two classes to talk to about his career.
Smith turned to ABC Action News when his daughter's school, Clearwater Fundamental Middle School, said he could no longer attend. Smith at the middle school twice in the past.
According to emails from the principal, Smith was uninvited because some parents complained he was promoting an 'alternative lifestyle.'
He has been tattooing and piercing clients since 1999. He is licensed in the State of Florida and regularly passes sterilization inspections at his Clearwater tattoo parlor.
In an email sent to Smith on October 29, the principal, who admits to have piercings and tattoos himself, said his decision was not 'personal' but 'politically correct.'
Smith told ABC Action News his message is the classroom is one of discouragement when it comes to getting tattoos and piercing before the age of eighteen.
He also tries to school the students on how to properly get a tattoo or piercing. Smith points to many young kids who have contracted infections after trying to tattoo or pierce themselves.
"Teenagers are going to go out and do what they want and I'd rather educated them on how to make a wise decision. Do it in the proper way instead of taking a sewing needle and shoving it through your belly button," he explained.
Smith says he also talks to students about how tattoos and piercings are similar to surgical procedures. Smith says he talks about the importance of sterilization because diseases like Hepatitis and HIV can be spread through unclean needles.
Smith believes his profession has been stigmatized for years. He said just like doctors and lawyers, he also has client lists.
Melanie Marquez, the spokesperson for Pinellas County Schools, released the following statement on behalf of principal Dave Rosenberger:
"We appreciate all the interest we receive from those wishing to take part in the Great American Teach-In, including that of Mr. Smith. Our school experiences a high level of parent involvement and parent feedback plays a significant role in the decisions we make every day. After a careful review of the feedback from parents over the past two years, a decision was made to decline Mr. Smith's offer to return for a third year to talk about his career as a tattoo artist. The decision was 100% based on the age appropriateness of the presentation. There was never any intent to disrespect Mr. Smith or his chosen profession. We knew that no matter the decision, that it would be open for criticism. However, we have a responsibility to ensure that presentations during the Great American Teach-In are appropriate for our school community.
Since airing his story, it gained national headlines and a teacher in Ohio took notice. She contacted Smith and asked him to teach her class about being a tattoo artist. Smith will Skype into the class after Thanksgiving.