Schools celebrate Christm–, er, the holidays
Christmas is a time for trees decorations, carols, and other celebrations.
But sometimes that can get you into trouble in a public school.
Last year, Parley’s Park second-grade teacher Randee Kadziel wanted a Christmas tree in her room. So to avoid any cries of religious impropriety, she used it as a book drive for her students. Kids could donate books all December, which were placed under the tree, then Kadziel donated the books and tree to the Children’s Justice Center in Heber. "That’s how I got around that," she said. "You just have to be careful in the schools." The Park City School District doesn’t have a list of do’s or don’ts for recognizing December holidays, and any controversy is handled at the school level, said School Board President David Chaplin.
"Sometimes people are concerned since there is a religious context to the holiday, but I haven’t heard of any in Park City," Chaplin said. He noted, "If there are issues that can’t be resolved, we may get involved in them."
In his 12 years on the board, Chaplin said no such issues have come to the board.
He said, "It’s always exciting to go to the schools to see what’s going on this time of year."
In recognizing December holidays, Ecker Hill Vice Principal Sherrie Peterson said, "It’s OK to show it, but you can’t focus on one."
This month, Ecker Hill is having a Nutcracker performance from Park City Dance on Dec. 9, and Peterson said the school might do a Sub-for-Santa. But generally holiday celebrations are more for elementary school students. the time students get to middle school, "You don’t have the whole party-ish kind of stuff." Teachers can present holiday icons of other cultures around the Earth, said Trailside Principal Martha Crook. "We really try to be respectful of a variety of religious traditions and cultural experiences."
"We generalize doing a holiday theme," Crook said. "Do we see reindeer and Santa Claus? Yes. Do we see menorahs? Yes."
One reason parents might take umbrage at a Christmas tree display, is if they see it as a religious symbol rather than a secular symbol, "which it’s kind of become," according to Park City Academy headmaster John Gutman. "If they think it’s a religious symbol and look at it that way," he continued. "If they’re either agnostic or don’t have any kind of religious affiliation, maybe they think it’s an attempt by teachers to cross that line of religion and public schools."
A school’s sensitivity to that kind of issue depends on its make-up, Gutman said. "It seems like it depends on the school. I know a lot of public schools do allow those things," he said.
Park City Academy is a private, Christian school, when it comes to recognizing Christmas, "We embrace it," Gutman said.
Holiday-related objections have never been an issue at Trailside, but Crook said she’s talked to other administrators where it has been. At Trailside there’s a "sense of tolerance for diversity of religions if we don’t just negate any one," she said.
"If it’s a problem we’ll talk to parents and try to be respectful of all beliefs," Crook continued.
She noted that part of being a principal is addressing parent concerns across a variety of issues.
"Sometimes the reading program causes some issues," she said.
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$1 million in CARES Act funding has been set aside for Summit County nonprofits, and the Park City Community Foundation is working to organize the fund and how to choose recipients. The goal is to start accepting applications Oct. 14.