Schools strip religious references from special days -- or try to include everyone
In addition to learning their ABCs, students now also are learning to be PC.
Recognizing the various cultures in the student population, most schools have given new labels to what used to be known as Christmas break or Easter vacation.
"When I was a child it was Christmas, Halloween, Valentines Day and Easter -- oh, and Thanksgiving," said former Toledo teacher, parent and educational advocate Martie Manner. "I've been in a variety of districts, but one thing has rang true the last 30 years: Holidays are no longer holidays."
Manner said he completely understands some families don't celebrate certain holidays, just like some families don't pray before meals or find the Pledge of Allegiance acceptable.
Holidays are not addressed on the Ohio Department of Education Web site. The only guidelines offered to teachers -- other than to teach to state-mandated curriculums -- are to be open to different religions and beliefs, as well as being sensitive to those who have different beliefs.
Hancock Elementary kindergarten teacher Erin Terry said times have changed, and just like everything else, holiday celebrations have too.
"Our schoolchildren have so many different cultures, beliefs and backgrounds now, that as a school community we need to teach the children that everyone's beliefs need to be recognized and respected," she said. "Instead of a Christmas program, we now have a Winter Program. Instead of a Halloween Party, we now have Harvest Happenings. No more Easter Break; it's Spring Break. It's a way to make things politically correct."
Sandusky superintendent Bill Pahl said districts try to make events non-religious, so not to offend or leave out any one person.
"Every family (child) has the opportunity to opt out of participation in such activities if they are in conflict with their religion, etc.," he said. "Also, we try very hard to make such events, activities non-religious where ever possible."
Furry Elementary teacher Jennifer Luginbill said children who do not celebrate during the holidays are given different options, such as going home early before a Christmas party. Artwork and assignments are adjusted to reflect their beliefs.
"All cultural differences are respected and encouraged," she said. "If students come from another culture, I ask parents to come to school and share their Passover or Hanukkah traditions."
Local parents said they're a little confused by what's happened since they were younger, but if families keep their own beliefs alive at home, then what happens in school shouldn't matter.
"My oldest son is a senior," Sandusky mom T'Layna Jones said. "He had Christmas plays when he was younger, and his younger sister has Winter plays and parties. They can take Santa out of the schools, but as long as he's being talked about at home, he's not going to go away, and it's not going to ruin my daughter's childhood because Santa didn't come to school."
"We are a Jewish family," Sandusky mother of three Erin Barslovik said. "But I don't want my family's beliefs to prevent other children from celebrating their families' beliefs in school during their impressionable years. Why not teach all children about all holidays and celebrate them all, together?"
Manner said talking about holiday "characters" helps children use their imagination. Addressing all the different holidays and religious beliefs at an early age will only help a child become more rounded in adult life.
"I feel that the music teachers in Sandusky do an outstanding job at recognizing all of the holidays that take place during the winter months," Terry said. "Everything from Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and other holidays from around the world are sung about throughout the Winter Program. It's not just about Christmas anymore. It's actually really fun for the children to learn about the different holidays. In the elementary grades a lot of it is new to them, and they get really engaged. Only after they get a chance to learn about the different holidays can a child learn to respect them. It's important to let children know that even though they may not celebrate a particular holiday, they should still respect it and the people who do."