Kathleen Williams, superintendent of schools for the Wausau, Wisconsin School District is under fire by angry parents and students for her crusade against Christmas music. The rift started when Williams called in a local high school music teacher to meet with a school district attorney in discussing how religious Christmas music violated the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Even though the school district has for decades sent music groups out into the community to perform both sacred and secular Christmas music Williams expressed concerns that continuing to do so would expose the school district to lawsuits and complaints from the community. In a meeting held late last week Williams explained her belief that a group of high school kids singing some Christmas carols is prohibited under the First Amendmentâ€™s Establishment Clause.
Caroling â€œis endorsing Christmas, which is a very religious holiday,â€ Williams declared, according to the Wausau Daily Herald. Her concern is that singing a Christmas song to old people at a nursing home violates the doctrine of separation of church and state.
In her meeting with music educators Williams instructed that no sacred works be performed for Christmas 2013.
Music teacher Phil Buch responded to the ultimatum by disbanding the elite choir group, called the Master Singersâ€”an extracurricular group that meets before school. The choir â€” which turned away 60 percent of students who wanted to join this year â€” sings at the schoolâ€™s winter concert and in venues such as nursing homes and service club meetings.
â€œI know, after teaching this group for 31 years, that I need 10 weeks to get these kids ready, and right now, we donâ€™t know what weâ€™re approved to perform,â€ the choir director told the Daily Herald. â€œThere is no point in rehearsing if we donâ€™t know what weâ€™ll be able to sing.â€
â€œExcluding sacred music would mean that students would get an incomplete education,â€ warned Julie Burgess, a music teacher in a nearby school district.
â€œThe group is not a religious group,â€ said Adam Yarish, a college student who sang with the Master Singers in high school. â€œThe singers were for hire. We caroled around the city. Weâ€™ve been around and been in demand for 30 years. People love the Master Singers.â€
Williams and the school board quickly backed away from their demands against sacred Christmas music for this year and has elected instead to allow local school principals to determine the appropriate content of school music programs for this Christmas.
But for Williams the damage is done. She faces a recall petition as the community is still stewing over the attempted abrupt action of the Superintendent.