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Learning Matters: A different perspective on the word Christmas

January 10, 2014|By Joylene Wagner | By Joylene Wagner

When Glendale News-Press Editor Dan Evans introduced us new columnists to his staff and each other last August, he expressed a wish for some lively exchanges of perspective between Hoover High School teacher Brian Crosby and me. Today I’ll grant my editor’s wish.

I do indeed have a different perspective than Crosby expressed in his Dec. 20 column, “Christmas, by name, should be cherished.” I’d call it a “Yes, but” response to his wish that school staff could feel freer to say “Merry Christmas” and could more openly refer to decorated firs as Christmas trees rather than holiday trees.

I gathered from his column that he favors a recent Texas law “…that allows teachers to say the greeting [‘Merry Christmas’] and to celebrate Christmas without fear of repercussion.” I would not favor such a law.

If our teachers fear repercussion from an occasional “Merry Christmas,” then I’d say they or their principals don’t understand the district’s “Religious Expression in the Schools” policy, adopted in 2001.

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When I directed an elementary chorus, I served on the committee that developed the policy and took the policy to heart in choosing music for December programs. As an active member of the Christian/faith community, I continue to believe the policy steers us in the right direction: toward inclusivity and understanding. It’s a policy that deserves more attention than it gets.

Nowhere does the policy forbid the word “Christmas.” What it does encourage is balance and an understanding that schools should not be seen as favoring one faith tradition over another.

The full policy can be viewed at www.gusd.net, but two key points are these: “Religious expression in public schools involves a careful balancing of free-speech rights and the right to free exercise of religion without promoting or establishing religion… [and[ school staff members, when acting in their official capacity, are prohibited from endorsing, soliciting, encouraging or directing religious activities with students, on campus or at school-sponsored off-campus events.”

Glendale Unified’s policy was based, in part, on “Finding Common Ground, A Guide to Religious Liberty in Public Schools” by Charles Haynes and Oliver Thomas.

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