Colorado Springs Debates Christmas Debates

It’s 77 days until Christmas – a time of year when some teachers get a little nervous about what they can or can’t do in the classroom:

Is it OK for the choir to sing “Silent Night?” Can they wear sweatshirts with Santa on them? Can they put up a tree in the classroom?

To help them tiptoe through the holly without legal folly, Falcon School District 49’s school board is considering a revision to the district’s Commitment to Religious Neutrality policy.

The revised policy would require the school district’s attorneys each fall to research case law, judicial interpretations of new laws or resolutions, and other legal matters on religious expression and federal holiday observances in schools. In turn, district officials would provide guidelines to teachers and other staff in September.

The board will vote on the proposal Thursday at its 6:30 p.m. meeting in the administration building at 10850 East Woodmen Rd.

Board member Mark Shook, who presented the resolution during a recent board work session, thinks such information will help teachers “not be intimidated by misinformation,” and be able to plan events without worry.

“There is a lot of rumor and incorrect information floating around out there all the time, and this should clear that up,” Shook said.

The change is not geared to putting an end to school celebrations, but to ensure that the constitutional rights of staff and students to observe celebrations aren’t denied, he said.
Board member Kent Clawson said the policy would largely protect teachers.

“Every year there are questions from teachers who want to do some holiday project. This would give them guidance.”

But it is not without some controversy – especially because the wording refers specifically to Christmas.

Kelly Jo Salling-Davies, whose daughter attends elementary school in the district, attended the work session where the change was proposed. The district’s religion neutrality regulation already addresses such questions, she said. It states that it’s permissible to teach the history of religion, comparative religion and religious influences in art, music, literature and social studies.

“My concern is why tack on a paragraph that deals only with Christmas. Doesn’t that promote Christmas?”

She sent an e-mail to the board suggesting that if they amend the regulation, it should be done in a neutral way so it isn’t subject to a legal challenge. To do that, she believes the policy should refer to the “religious holidays,” not “Christmas holidays.”

Shook said the resolution specifies Christmas because it’s the holiday that brings on questions always arise. He said there will probably be discussion of that issue during the meeting. “But I don’t think we need to mention every holiday. There is no reason to write ‘War and Peace’ on this.”

Another D-49 decision involving Christmas met with controversy two years ago. At that time, Falcon’s school board voted to use the term “Christmas break” instead of winter break on its school calendar.

“Changing the name of our break was heated and emotional,” Shook says. “So we know people care about this issue.”

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