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Ruminations

The School Committee is at it again. Trying to get rid of Christmas, that is.

At the committee's May 18 meeting, they reviewed a draft of a revision to the policy called "Religious Holiday Observance and Religious Holiday Expression." Here's how the policy begins:

The Milford Public Schools are committed to respecting cultural and religious diversity. The United States Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and related court rulings clearly establish the concept of "church and state separation" and the "preclusion of sectarian instruction in public schools."

The Milford School Committee has issued this policy in an attempt to balance that commitment with its recognition that the observance of religious holidays is not the responsibility of the public schools.

In schools it is permissible to teach about religion in the context of history, literature, art, music, or other core subjects. Religious traditions, including holidays, provide an excellent opportunity for learning about different cultures and allow for fostering understanding and tolerance of diversity for our students who live in a pluralistic society. The tone and spirit of school activities must respect the many religious differences in the school population, neither promoting any particular religion nor inhibiting a child's right to his or her own religion. Students of all religious backgrounds (or no religion) should feel that the schools respect their beliefs.

Initially – outside of the fact the phrase, "The Unites States Constitution of Massachusetts" makes absolutely no sense whatsoever – the policy looks like something you would want to have in place to avoid the American Civil Liberties Union suing you.

But, there are parts of the policy that are disturbing. The section entitled, "Religious Symbols, for example says:

As part of their teaching about religious holidays and the role religion plays in history, literature, culture, and the arts, teachers may display religious symbols and displays associated with religious holidays as teaching aids or resources only during the period of instruction. Holiday displays are permitted in public spaces such as hallways, cafeteria, or common space as long as they have educational value. No such symbol or display may be visible from outside the school facility. No religious symbols, including those related to holidays, should be represented in classrooms or on classroom materials unless these materials are directly related to curricular study about religion or culture.

So – as committee member Scott Harrison pointed out – if this policy is adopted, teachers will no longer be able to wear a visible Crucifix or Star of David on a necklace on most days of the year. What happened if a Sikh teacher is hired? For Sikhs, a turban is an integral part of their religious identity. Will that be banned?

During the discussion, committee member Jennifer Parson voiced her view that an image of Santa Claus, a Christmas tree and Christmas lights are all religious symbols. Both legally and culturally, they are not. Does she want to ban Halloween? After all, it is still the Christian religious holiday of All Hallows Eve, preceding All Saints Day.

I'm not even going to get into the "Music" part of the policy, which would forbid religious-oriented songs from "dominating" school concerts.

School Committee: Go back to the drawing board with this one. Don't be a Grinch! (Can I even say that, since it's associated with Christmas?)




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