A Garden City (Idaho) public charter school director asked students singing in a school talent show to replace the word “Christmas” with “holiday” because of the scrutiny Nampa Classical Academy has garnered regarding the use of religious texts in the classroom.
Media attention over the lawsuit Nampa Classical Academy has brought against the Idaho Public Charter School Commission and other state officials so it can use religious texts as part of an objective curriculum “put(s) negative pressure on all charters and we are being closely monitored right now to see if there’s anything the media can find that can be misconstrued as using peoples’ tax dollars to teach religion incorrectly,” Garden City Community School director Cindy Hoovel said in a memo on the school’s Web site. “Therefore, the decision was made to be extremely careful with this issue.”
Hoovel acknowledged the decision may have been “a bit overboard” but said she felt frustrated because the arts-based charter school is getting positive press coverage and she didn’t want to take any chance that her school would get lumped into the church and state issue.
“If you called any school, traditional or charter, every single administrator has to face how they are going to handle this time of year,” Hoovel told the Idaho Press-Tribune. “I do think it’s made administrators have to go overboard on being political correct.”
Seventh- and eighth-graders sponsored the talent show and gave Hoovel a list of the songs and acts to be performed the day before the show. Hoovel noticed several songs were about Christmas. The student wanted to perform a song by “Alvin and the Chipmunks” that included the word Christmas.
“I didn’t want their little hearts broken by not participating, so we compromised to change the word ‘Christmas’ to ‘holiday’ so they could still sing their songs. I was just being careful,” Hoovel said. “I’m hired to uphold educational law, not necessarily my personal opinion,” she added.
The decision got attention and Hoovel said the school has received many phone calls. She said listening to the feedback has been interesting and that the issue of separation of church and state in public schools needs to be examined by the public, schools and legislators.
Tamara Baysinger, charter schools program manager of the Idaho Public Charter School Commission, declined to comment on the talent show controversy because the commission has not taken a position on that issue and was not involved in Hoovel’s decision to replace the word Christmas with “holiday.” The use of the word Christmas is unrelated to the commission’s position on the use of religious texts in public school classrooms, according to the commission’s Web site. The commission was advised in an attorney general’s opinion that religious texts may not be used in public school classrooms, including public charter school classrooms, for any purpose.
In response to the controversy, Nampa Classical Academy board of directors vice-chairman Michael Moffett told the Press-Tribune, “It is extremely disappointing and sad that someone responsible for teaching children does not understand what the so-called ‘separation of church and state’ is and not willing to stand up for our American rights. Administrators don’t have to be ‘ridiculously correct.’ They need to stand up for what is right.”
Moffet continued, “At Nampa Classical Academy, we boldly exercise our American right to recognize Christmas while respecting other belief systems and will not violate our students’ right to celebrate our Western traditions. It is clear the Public Charter School Commission is and has created a chilling effect resulting in the muting of the childrens’ voices.”