From the MetroWest Daily News (Massachusetts):
Medway schools crack down on Christmas
By Danielle Williamson/ Daily News Staff
Friday, December 23, 2005
MEDWAY -- Some parents are scratching their heads after school administrators insisted students call a Christmas tree a "magical tree," the color red was removed from green and red elf hats, and songs from "Jesus Christ Superstar," were pulled from a winter concert.
No more Jesus Christ Superstar songs? Bummer!
"I can see a religious holiday being offensive to those who don’t celebrate it," said Dale Fingar, whose sixth-grade son brought home 10 red and green elf hats Monday and requested she replace the red fabric with white. "But red and green hats? Come on."
Handfuls of parents said they were upset with the administration’s handling of "a couple" of complaints from parents who were offended by Christian religious themes in the middle school’s holiday programming.
Sixth-graders were scheduled to perform portions of several songs from the musical "Jesus Christ Superstar," in the holiday concert today. Last week, Middle School Principal Joanne Senier-LaBarre wrote parents a letter explaining those songs had been cut from the performance.
"The philosophy of the middle school is one of acceptance for cultural and religious diversity. The study of Jesus Christ, Superstar was approached from a strictly musical perspective," Senier-LaBarre wrote. "However, in retrospect, we understand that some members of our school family are uncomfortable with what they feel is a musical work that has religious ties.
"After much discussion, we have decided not to include the rock opera in our performance," the letter continued.
Parent Tracy Goldrick said she has spoken to at least 20 parents who are, at the least, mildly annoyed at "the watering down of Christmas."
She and four other parents yesterday named two parents they said complained to administrators about references to Christmas. One of the parents in question could not be reached for comment yesterday when called at home. The other woman would neither confirm nor deny complaining to the administration.
"Aren’t we supposed to embrace each other’s differences?" Goldrick said. "If someone is trying to promote something that’s violent, that’s one thing. But they’re promoting a Christmas tree. The solution isn’t to take Christmas out of the (programming). The solution is telling people to lighten up."
Goldrick’s daughter, Tess, 11, said some of her peers were upset they lost their solos in the "Jesus Christ Superstar," songs.
In addition, Tess said she was confused when her teachers said the Christmas tree that was part of the scenery for the play would be called a "magical tree."
"About a week ago, we had to call it a magical tree," Tess said. "And they changed our red and green elf hats to green and white. I think they didn’t want them to have anything to do with Christmas colors."
The flap has made Medway the new battleground for the Florida-based Liberty Counsel, a group backed by evangelical Christian minister Jerry Falwell that has waged a nationwide war to protect Christmas.
"What is going through the school administrator’s mind?" said Liberty Counsel President Matthew Staver. "It’s ridiculous and an act of stupidity to call something green and prickly a magical tree when all of the children know that it’s a Christmas tree.
"These actions by the school administrator are not mere ignorance of the law. No one in their right mind thinks the law requires this kind of censorship or hostility," said Staver, whose group forced Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino to acknowledge that the city’s holiday tree is a Christmas tree.
Superintendent Richard Grandmont said administrators learned "Jesus Christ Superstar," was part of the winter concert after "some people brought it to our attention."
Grandmont said he sent staff a memo in November, which outlined the district’s stance on holiday programming.
"In general, it is expected that staff be sensitive to the culturally diverse environment in which they work, and cognizant of their responsibility to avoid activities that could be perceived as a school endorsement of religion," he said.
In the middle school concert’s case, Grandmont said, the music teacher had not informed the principal ahead of time that the musical was part of the programming.
"Parents contacted the school," Grandmont said. "The reason we acted on it was that we didn’t have the knowledge ahead of time."
Paul Danehy was perturbed yesterday morning after leaving his third-grader’s holiday concert at Memorial School. Instead of "We Wish you a Merry Christmas," the students sang, "We Wish you a Swinging Holiday."
Danehy also has a sixth-grade son, who had been practicing his lines from "Jesus Christ Superstar," for three weeks.
"I’m not advocating for a Christian-based celebration," Danehy said. "But don’t ignore the white elephant in the corner called Christmas."
He said he was "sent into orbit" after learning students were encouraged to call a Christmas tree a magical tree.
"I know what a menorah is," Danehy said. "I’m not calling it a candleholder."
Sixth-grade parent Anne Pendleton said she comes from an interfaith family, Catholic and Jewish.
"Enough is enough," Pendleton said. "If my daughter wants to go call it a Christmas tree, she should be able to call it a Christmas tree."
O’Ryan Johnson of the Boston Herald contributed to this story.