Pasco County Schools said they reversed their decision to deny a mother’s request for a Hanukkah presentation in her son’s fifth grade class after reporters asked the county for an explanation.
A district spokesman said the mother had to meet with school staff first to set guidelines, but the presentation had been otherwise approved.
Rachel Lang attended each of her children’s classes each year to study Hanukkah – the Jewish “Festival of Lights‘ This takes place around the same time as Christmas and also includes presents – since her eldest son was in preschool. He is now in 10th grade.
Her brief presentation contains no mention of God or religion, Long said. Instead, it consists of her reading from a book that explains Hanukkah (also spelled “Chanukah”), shares traditional food, and a menorah, and give toy tops (Dreidel) for each child to a game in class.
Barring the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, the schools Long’s children attended welcomed them into the classroom every year with no issues. That was until last week, when she reached out to the teacher of her youngest fifth-grade child at his New Port Richey elementary school to ask when she could come this year.
At first the teacher seemed open to the idea. She told Long she would consult with school leaders “to determine what day and time would be best.”
A few days later, however, the teacher said that after discussions with school staff and district administrators, she recommended that Long’s application be denied, citing Florida’s relatively new land Parents’ Bill.
“Following discussions with the team and administration, the new Parents’ Bill of Rights (sic) requires us to follow the 5th grade standards as written,” the teacher said via text. “Currently, a Hanukkah presentation is not one of our standards.”
Lange asked: “Then there won’t be any Christmas activities?”
The teacher did not answer immediately.
The Bill of Rights for Parents Who Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed on June 30, 2021, provides that parents can object to and withdraw their child from educational materials based on their beliefs about morality, sex, and religion.
The only mention of holidays and cultural traditions in the Pasco school Fifth grade curriculum guide says students will read stories from “different cultures” and encourages parents to discuss the meaning of different holidays with their children.
CPALMSthe Florida Department of Education’s official source for educational standards, includes recognized vacation courses in world language, history, and civics classes, as well as hundreds of grants for multicultural education.
Long contacted the principal and got a similar response. The principal, she said, claimed to have spoken to an assistant superintendent from the district. The deputy principal assigned to the school is Kimberley Poeaccording to Pasco Schools Director of Employee Relations Kathy Scalise.
Long said the principal told her, “Due to the Parent Bill of Rights (sic), the school could not celebrate holidays.”
Apparently that doesn’t apply to Christmas, Long claimed, noting Christmas-themed decorations at a school “Christmas shop” and a variety of related activities.
‘(The) kids are going to see the musical,’elf jr“During school, the school will be fully decorated for Christmas and a ‘Christmas Night’ is planned,” Long told Florida Politics. “(The Headmaster) explained these things by saying that it is a public holiday, not Christmas, and parents can opt out of their students. Teachers are allowed to have Christmas trees in their rooms, but not Elf on The Shelf.
“If students can opt-in or opt-out of all of these activities, I suggested that students could be opted-out of my Hanukkah presentation.”
Long stressed that she did not want to force her religion on anyone.
“I’m just trying to expose my kid’s classmates to other traditions,” she said. Long said the principal agreed to revisit the issue with Poe before making a final decision on Thursday, but suggested that if the school allowed a presentation on Hanukkah, “they would have to teach.” kwanza and diwali.”
“I think that would be great,” Long said. “I told her it would be a problem if I came in; I am happy to send the materials for use by the teacher. I explained to her that if I can’t give my presentation or the teacher doesn’t, I’ll raise hell when I see a Christmas newspaper coming home or I see a Christmas tree at school.”
Florida Politics contacted Principal Poe, principal of Pasco kurt browning, and Deputy Superintendent Ray Gad. At the time of going to press, no one had replied.
But the problem appeared to have been resolved by Wednesday afternoon. Pasco Schools Public Information Officer Stephen Hegarty told Florida Politics that Long could actually give her Hanukkah presentation once she met with the teacher and other relevant faculty.
Hegarty confirmed that a local TV reporter had also learned about the problem and was looking for answers. He said the district was cautious in expressing reluctance at Long’s request.
“The Parents’ Bill of Rights is new, and while it doesn’t address a lot of things, it does address some things, and everyone wants to make sure they’re doing the right thing,” he said. “You’re trying to be careful.”
He added: “To my knowledge the teacher has sought clarification from her Headmaster, her Headmaster has sought clarification and that’s where we are now, meaning she’s going to work through it, making sure everything is done appropriately and me assume she will go into the classroom and give a nice presentation. From what I understand she has done a great job in the past.”
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