Friday, December 16, 2005

Merry Kwanzikamas From North Carolina!

What should a public school in this situation do during the holiday season?
With students hailing from 29 countries and speaking 28 languages, Durham's Forest View Elementary School could be a miniature United Nations.

So, when holiday time comes around, teachers and administrators are careful not to offend anyone.

That means no Christmas celebrations at Forest View. Or Kwanzaa. Or Hanukkah for that matter.

"Everyone understands because we are so diverse, it's just best to not do it," said Principal Lisa Napp. "It's up to the individual teacher and whether it fits with the standard course of study whether they teach about the holidays. But we don't have celebrations."

It's a quandary all public schools face come December.

Should they celebrate the slew of holidays, complete with Santa Claus, Christmas trees and menorahs -- and risk offending someone with the religious overtones? Or should they skip the whole thing -- and risk feeling like a Scrooge?

There's no definite answer, said Thomas Dutton, an attorney with the National School Board Association.

"In some ways, we don't have very clear lines," he said. "There hasn't been a whole lot of litigation about this stuff. You just take your best guess."

Only one court case on holiday celebrations, Florey v. Sioux Falls School District in 1980, has reached as high as the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The court upheld the school district's policy of having holiday decorations and allowing classrooms to recognize and celebrate religious holidays -- as long as it was educational and didn't endorse or disagree with any of the traditions or beliefs.

Other, smaller cases have dealt with singing religious songs at Christmas concerts or including religious symbols in holiday programs. In general, Dutton said, schools needn't avoid all holiday symbols -- as long as they are inclusive of all students and stick to an educational tone.

"Sometimes it comes down to what makes sense for your community," Hutton said. "In some communities, there might be more sensitivity for these things."
In the case of a school with this much cultural and religious diversity, it's probably a pretty good idea to leave the observance of the various religious holidays up to the parents in their homes.
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