Editorial: School officials need refresher course on meaning of Christmas

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were so afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men.’”

— Linus van Pelt in “A Charlie Brown Christmas”

That’s what Christmas is all about, folks. And, it appears it’s something about which Taunton school officials could use a little refresher course.

Earlier this month, Maxham Elementary School officials sent home an 8-year-old boy when the second-grader drew a stick figure of Jesus Christ on the cross after his teacher reportedly asked students to illustrate something that reminded them of Christmas. The drawing came on the heels of the child’s family visit to see the Christmas display at the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette, a Christian retreat site in Attleboro, which just happens to include an abundance of crucifixes.

So you’re 8 years old, you visit a Christmas display, and along with the Christmas-themed displays you notice lots of crucifixes. Then, shortly thereafter, when thinking about Christmas, you think of crucifixes, so you draw one. Makes sense, yes?

Well, no, not if you’re the child’s teacher or principal at Maxham.

Apparently, school officials were alarmed by Xs depicting Christ’s eyes in the drawing. Subsequently, the child’s parents were called, and the child was forced to leave school and undergo psychological testing. The boy was so traumatized by the events that he was reluctant to return to school, and he has been allowed to transfer schools, which for an 8-year-old could quite likely be traumatic in itself.

And all for what? The Xs? Would they have been more comfortable with Os?

You have to wonder whether Maxham School Principal Rebecca Couet or the boy’s teacher ever played with old-fashioned rag dolls as children. Using Xs is a common method for fashioning eyes, on homemade dolls and elsewhere. It’s neither evil nor unusual. (There’s even a band named after the practice: Xs for Eyes.) And it’s certainly not a safety issue, as Superintendent Julie Hackett seems to conclude.

Although Hackett said district policy prevented her from discussing a “confidential matter regarding a student,” she did offer this explanation:

“Generally speaking, we have safety protocols in place,” Hackett said. “If a situation warrants it, we ask for outside safety evaluations if we have particular concerns about a child’s safety. We followed all the protocols in our system.”

Really? What about the protocol in which the Christmas assignment itself was outside the bounds of what teachers ought to be teaching in a public, non-religious school?

The school department issued a statement Tuesday claiming the picture circulated in the media is not the one the teacher found. But Hackett refused to say what, if anything, was different about the picture in question. She also denied the teacher made the assignment, a claim directly refuted by the boy’s father, an educational advocate working with the family and, apparently, Taunton Mayor Charles Crowley, who called on Hackett to publicly apologize and develop a school-wide policy to prevent a similar occurrence from happening again.

Even if in 2009 Christ has been largely wrenched from secular Christmas, most would have to admit that the holiday’s underpinnings are Christian. It’s right there in the name, for heaven’s sake. If you’re going to ask children to draw something about Christmas, you have to expect that at least some of them will draw something other than Santa and his merry band of elves, and Christ is entirely appropriate.

What’s inappropriate, however, is school officials’ response to the drawing. The system owes an apology to this young student and his family. At the very least they may want to take a few moments this Christmas season to watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and remember what it’s all about.

The Herald News