Parents of kindergarten students pulled their kids out of class recently to protest the cancellation of an annual Christmas tradition: a school trip to see Santa.
For the past 10 years, students at Sartorette Elementary School in San Jose, Calif., have taken a field trip to a local coffee shop to deliver letters to Santa, sit on his lap, and drink hot chocolate.
The trip was canceled after one class mother, Talia (who has withheld her last name from the media), complained that the tradition was exclusive of other religions, which don’t believe in Santa or celebrate Christmas. Talia, who is Jewish, says the issue is bigger than one religion. “This is not a Jewish issue for me,” she told NBC Bay Area. “It’s an inclusion issue. We can’t spend five days on just one culture. That’s fostering intolerance. When Christmas is given the same time, or [more] time, than American holidays, like Veterans Day, then kids don’t feel as American.”
This mother, Talia, says her daughter’s school shouldn’t be holding a Christmas field trip. (Photo: NBC Bay Area)
Talia’s daughter is the only Jewish student in the class, but she told NBC that six other cultures are represented in the class but are not celebrated in school. “The field trip was tied to two writing workshops that were supposed to be spent writing to Santa,” she told KGO. “There was also a reindeer party and other Christmas related activities. There was nothing done for the Diwali festival. We have two Hindu girls in our class. There was nothing done for Ramadan. We have a Muslim boy in our class.“ A certified public school teacher, Talia said the Santa lesson was better taught outside of class hours.
After Talia raised her concerns with the school board, she and the superintendent agreed on a compromise: Students would still go to the local coffee shop for hot chocolate, but there would be no Santa during school hours, and students would write letters to the coffee shop owner instead. But since the event was open to the community, the coffee shop owner couldn’t cancel Santa’s appearance, so the school trip was called off instead.
Parents angry about the scrapped tradition spoke out against Talia in person and on social media. The mother says one parent called her “the one who started the war on Christmas.” In response to the trip’s cancellation, about two dozen parents staged a school walkout, taking their kids out of class to see Santa on their own, according to NBC Bay Area.
A little boy sits on Santa’s lap at the coffee shop where the field trip would have been held. (Photo: NBC Bay Area)
Vanessa Howe, who organized the walkout, told NBC Bay Area that students who don’t feel comfortable attending the trip should stay home. “[They] should just not go for that one hour,” she said. But Talia said forcing children to skip a trip was unfair. “They need to redesign the curriculum so that children don’t have to opt out,” she said.
Another parent, Joanne Tashiro, accused Talia of attempting to “scrub down our school and devoid it of any cultural teaching or tolerance.” She said, “In striving for tolerance, this person is stripping our school of any exposure to culture.”
But Charles Haynes, director of the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute, said Talia’s concerns are justified. “This assignment is inappropriate in a public school,” he told NBC Bay Area. “At the very least, this is ill-advised. You shouldn’t have a holiday experience that privileges just one particular religion.”
The superintendent of the school district, Carrie Andrews, has stood by the decision. “Our biggest commitment is inclusion,” she said. “This isn’t about Santa. Santa is everywhere, he’s all around town. But during school, we have to represent and reflect our community to make sure we’re inclusive of all beliefs.”
As for those accusing Talia of being a Grinch, she says that’s hardly the case. “Santa will be there,” she told CBS News. “I’m not going around to anybody’s homes asking them not to celebrate Christmas. I’m not going to go to anyone’s church or private school, but in a public school we have to design curriculum to fit everybody.”
Top photo: NBC Bay Area