A New York elementary school principal was the subject of much ire today after several news outlets accused her of banning Christmas, Thanksgiving, and the Pledge of Allegiance. According to the New York Post, Principal Eujin Jaela Kim of PS169 in Brooklyn recently put the kibosh on religious celebrations in school. That means, like many schools, holidays are celebrated as “harvest festivals” or “winter celebrations,” rather than with blatantly religious iconography.
According to the PTA president who spoke to the Post, the school’s principal also changed how the Pledge of Allegiance is handled. Traditionally, the pledge has been said over the morning announcements with compulsory student participation. Under Kim’s leadership, teachers are free to choose how they’d like to handle it. They may say it in their classrooms if they wish, but students aren’t required to participate. Somehow, this totally level-headed policy got translated in the media as Kim banning the pledge entirely, which is far from the case.
The changes were announced in a memo last month, in which the Vice Principal, Jose Chapparro, called for teachers to “be sensitive of the diversity of our families” and reminded them that “not all children celebrate the same holidays.” The school’s policies are in keeping with what the city’s Department of Education recommends. According to their guidelines, school displays that “depict images of deities, religious figures or religious texts” are prohibited. Still, that hasn’t stopped people from getting upset and completely blowing the story out of proportion.
Fox News was among the first to break the story, and they ran with the details, saying the principal had banned Santa and wouldn’t allow students to say the pledge. Before long, irate “patriots” had started a Facebook page and a Change.org petition calling for Kim’s termination. The discussion on their Facebook page also ranged from outrage to ridiculous vitriolic meltdowns:
“Liberal, left-wing, progressive hosebag; should be removed from the school system immediately. If you don’t like American, Christian holidays; get the hell out of America. Despicable.”
“Go back to your country you POS! You’re in our country now, AMERICA, and you don’t change our traditions. To all parents of children in that school — grow a set and have this douche-bag terminated. SHAME on you if you don’t! STAND-UP 4 AMERICA…”
“Why doesn’t this woman go live in a country where there is no pledge of allegiance or Santa… She obviously hates America.”
“I would consider her a terrorist of the United States she should immediately be fired and never allowed to work in any school district for the rest of her life and deported to whatever country she wants to go to.“
Despite people’s propensity towards freaking the fuck out, this principal didn’t ban anything, and the policies she has in place sound perfectly reasonable. Lots of schools have winter and harvest celebrations, rather than promoting specific holidays or ideologies. My own middle and high schools — which I attended many years ago, and which were both located in the South — did not say the pledge over the intercom, nor did they require students to recite it. These are not new concepts, and they’re certainly not offensive, un-American, or worth freaking out about.
One of the great things about our country is that we make room for people. We make space for all races, religions, and ways of life — or, at least we’re supposed to. Giving students the freedom of choice in saying the pledge, refusing to force a particular religion on kids, and working to ensure you don’t highlight one religious celebration over another is not anti-American. It’s actually very American in that it’s striving for inclusivity. It’s a shame so many people seem to have a problem with that.
[Update: Since this post went up, the New York City Department Of Education has responded to the controversy and say staff at PS169 will begin broadcasting the pledge over the intercom once again.]