About 25 parents at Sartorette Elementary School in San Jose, California, walked their kindergarten children to a local café to deliver letters to Santa Claus after the school cancelled what had become an annual field trip, NBC Bay Area News reports.
One parent, who is Jewish and said her grandparents suffered in Poland because of their religious beliefs, said the school wasn’t engaging in best practices by favoring a Christian tradition during the holidays and excluding other traditions. She had asked the school to cancel the field trip but had originally signed a permission slip to allow her daughter to sit on Santa’s lap.
When Principal Scott R Johnson cancelled the field trip pursuant to the parent’s request, other parents were upset and simply took their kids out of class and walked them to the café themselves. The classroom teacher developed a new unit, bringing in eight parents who celebrate different holiday traditions. The new unit teaches students about the various traditions during the holidays, including Diwali in India, Christmas in Poland and England, and other traditions from around the world.
Other parents liked that idea a lot. “I’m not mad about the field trip being canceled because there was a very good intent behind this,” one was quoted as saying. “Just because we’ve doing this for 10 years, doesn’t make it right.”
Cambrian School District Supt Carrie Andrews acknowledged there was a breakdown in communication between the school and parents:
In December, it is essential that we continue to acknowledge the various beliefs and customs while not focusing on one holiday or set of beliefs. … As a district, we continue to work with our community to ensure that Cambrian is an inclusive environment of all that aligns with our values. … Cambrian School District is committed to working with staff and families to meet the needs of all of our students and their diverse values and traditions.
We can argue whether Santa Claus, as the character is depicted today, is strictly a “Christian” symbol or more of an “American” creation. Certainly Saint Nicholas, upon which the character is based, was a Christian, but the current depiction of Santa Claus has removed all reference to Christianity in favor of commercialism and profit.
Furthermore, Santa Claus is a well loved figure around the world, symbolizing the spirit of giving and the tradition of families celebrating good things together.
Santa Claus, however, isn’t really the subject of this debate. Rather, it’s inclusion that gets people roused up.
A decision by a federal district court in the case of Doe v Cape Henlopen School District, tried in Delaware, said a Muslim student who was subjected to readings of Christmas stories by a teacher in the classroom stated a valid claim for violation of her rights under the state constitution, a valid First Amendment retaliation claim, based on being transferred to another classroom after complaining about the Christmas stories, and a valid 14th Amendment equal protection claim for religious discrimination.
In other words, it’s fine to teach students about Christmas or Christianity, as long as other traditions and religions are treated equally in the classroom. That, I think, opens up young kids’ minds to the wonderful and diverse world they will grow up in.