Christmas Left Off School Calendars

When parents and PTA members of Monroe-Woodbury took the district to task last week for identifying some religious holidays in its calendar and not others, they were not alone.

Officials of Clarkstown School District in Rockland County (New York) said that it plans to reprint all of its calendars after it was discovered that Christmas had been left out. Clarkstown Superintendent Meg Keller-Cogan said the mistake — an error at the printer — triggered calls from angry parents, as well as discussions among church leaders.

“People thought it was a religious statement, and not what it was, which was a printing error,” she said.

The district usually makes it a point to include the names of most religious holidays so as not to offend anyone in its diverse population, Keller-Cogan said. The printer has volunteered to reprint the 20,000 calendars, as well as waive the $5,800 cost.

Clarkstown’s case became a point of reference for Monroe-Woodbury parents, some of whom were demanding last week that their district also reprint its calendars after an editing error.

Monroe-Woodbury officials said the district usually takes out the names of all religious or cultural holidays, except Rosh Hashana, which some might not readily recognize as a day off from school. The thinking is that Christian holidays, such as Christmas and Easter, are well-known. This year, however, Passover also was left in the Monroe-Woodbury calendar, sparking concerns by Christians that the district was favoring the Jewish faith.

Monroe-Woodbury Superintendent Joe DiLorenzo said yesterday that he planned to publish an explanation and apology on the district’s Web site rather than have taxpayers foot the cost of reprinting the 15,000 calendars. A cost estimate was unavailable yesterday.

“I don’t think any district intentionally sets out to get anyone upset,” DiLorenzo said. “But sometimes things might happen; sometimes things get overlooked.”

School calendars are a potential flash point of controversy for many school districts, which take enormous pains to ensure their community will approve of the publications before they go to print, said Elise Markowitz, the public relations consultant who oversees the printing of the calendars in Clarkstown.

“It’s an extraordinary investment of time and energy,” she said. “There’s nothing you can put in or leave out that people won’t notice.”

A survey of some online calendars for Orange County school districts show that Warwick and Port Jervis identify the most religious celebrations, including Yom Kippur, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Passover. Some districts, such as Goshen, don’t mention any of the holidays by name, even leaving out Rosh Hashana, which is included in most districts.

Some districts also offer two days off for Rosh Hashana, while others, such as Port Jervis, don’t offer any.

“Every district has different traditions,” said Terrence Olivo, the chief operating officer for Orange-Ulster BOCES, which produces the draft of the calendars in conjunction with the districts’ superintendents.

Reverberations from the Monroe-Woodbury controversy were felt across the county last week, especially in districts shell-shocked by past controversies over political correctness.

“When I saw the article (about Monroe-Woodbury), I made sure that we didn’t slip up on our calendar, as well,” said Frank Greenhall, superintendent of Warwick Valley Central Schools.

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