Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was almost grounded at Murrayville Elementary School this week after a parent complained about the classic Christmas songâ€™s inclusion in her daughterâ€™s upcoming kindergarten concert.
The objecting parent was upset about the words â€œChristmasâ€ and â€œSantaâ€ in the song, feeling that they carried religious overtones.
That prompted the song to be pulled from the upcoming holiday concert, which in turn upset more parents.
But Rudolph will be shining bright next Tuesday after New Hanover County school administrators and lawyers determined the song was just, well, a secular song about a make-believe reindeer.
â€œTheyâ€™ve determined that it signifies just a day in time, Dec. 25, not the promotion of a religious symbol,â€ said Ed Higgins, chairman of the county Board of Education. â€œSo Rudolph is back in.â€
School officials also found the use of â€œSantaâ€ to be okay because heâ€™s considered a nonreligious figure.
The kindergarten chorusâ€™ holiday concert for the schoolâ€™s PTA will now include Rudolph along with the songs â€œWinter Wonderland,â€ a snowman rap and â€œJingle Bells.â€
â€œThey have clearly decided that any other religion or custom is not important,â€ the objecting parent said after learning about the reversal on â€œRudolph.â€ She asked that her name not be published, to shield her daughterâ€™s identity.
The mother, who is Jewish, said she was trying to have a Hanukkah song added to the musical lineup but had not received a return phone call about it from school officials by mid-afternoon Friday.
Sean Dwyer, whose daughter is also in the kindergarten class, had complained Friday morning about Rudolph getting muzzled.
Friday afternoon he said he thought school officials had made the right call by reinstating the popular Christmas song.
â€œIt wasnâ€™t my point in the beginning whether it was about religion or not,â€ Dwyer said. â€œThe children have been learning this for weeks, and some person was trying to push their own personal feeling and agenda for this for their own child alone, and you just donâ€™t do that.â€
But until late Friday morning, Rudolph wasnâ€™t going anywhere.
Murrayville Principal Julie Duclos said the school decided to pull the song after the parent complained â€œto make sure that we were actually paying attention to everybodyâ€™s interest, that we were not choosing somebodyâ€™s interest over another.â€
â€œIf we had enough time in the PTA program to sing a song for every single interest and value system, then we could do it,â€ she said. â€œBut when you canâ€™t do that, you go to universal values that are agreed on by every faith, every denomination. We wouldnâ€™t want to leave anybody out.â€
Though concert participation is not mandatory, students had been practicing the songs during school hours in their music class.
The objecting parent said that she spoke to Duclos about keeping the program about education and having fun, without any religious references. She sees the beauty in the Christmas celebration, she said, but believes religious holidays have no place in a secular public school setting.
â€œI donâ€™t mind Christmas or anything Christmas-related at all, so long as youâ€™re not imposing it on my child,â€ the objecting parent said Friday morning.
Contacted about the matter Friday morning, Higgins was surprised and more than a little irritated by the schoolâ€™s decision to drop Rudolph from the musical event.
â€œI thought we were getting to the point where people would live and let live,â€ he said, openly wondering about how a few words in a holiday song about a magical reindeer could influence a childâ€™s religious development.
But Rabbi Harley Karz-Wagman, with Wilmingtonâ€™s Temple of Israel, said non-Christians are overwhelmed this time of year.
â€œI can understand the feelings the parent has,â€ he said, although he added that he personally didnâ€™t have a problem with Rudolph.
Schools spokeswoman Valita Quattlebaum said the district usually gets at least one complaint a year about some aspect of how the holidays are being celebrated in the schools.
But Stephanie Kraybill, head of the Council of PTAs, said sheâ€™s never heard of a parent complaining about Christmas songs in the schools before.
She said she remembers some parents expressing concerns about classroom decorations and holiday celebrations needing to include examples of all of the seasonâ€™s holidays, not just Christmas.
â€œBut not about Christmas carols,â€ Kraybill said.