September 28, 2007
BY ANGELA CAPUTO Daily Southtown
So long, Halloween parade. Farewell, Santa’s gift shop.
The holiday traditions are facing elimination in some Oak Lawn schools this year after complaints that the activities are offensive, particularly to Muslim students.
Final decisions on which of the festivities will be axed will fall to the principals at each of Ridgeland School District 122’s five schools, Supt. Tom Smyth said.
Parents expect that the announcement is going to add to the tension that has been building since officials agreed earlier this month to change the lunch menu to exclude items containing pork to accommodate Muslim students. News that Jell-O was struck from the menu caused such a stir that officials have agreed to bring it back. Gelatin is often made with tissue or bones of pigs or other animals.
That controversy now appears to have been been dwarfed by the holiday debate, which became so acrimonious Wednesday that police were called to Columbus Manor School to intervene in a shouting match among parents.
“It’s difficult when you change the school’s culture,” said Columbus Manor Principal Sandy Robertson.
Elizabeth Zahdan, a mother of three District 122 students, says she took her concerns to the school board this month, not because she wanted to do away with the traditions, but rather to make them more inclusive. “I only wanted them modified to represent everyone,” she said.
Nixing them isn’t the response she was looking for. “Now the kids are not being educated about other people,” she said.
There’s just not time in the six-hour school day to celebrate every holiday, said Smyth, who sent the message to principals that they need to “tone down” the activities that he sees as eating too much into instructional time. “We have to think about our purpose,” Smyth said. “Are we about teaching reading, writing and math or for parties or fund-raising during the day?”
Robertson is hoping to strike compromises that will keep traditions alive and be culturally acceptable to all students — nearly half of whom are of Arab descent at Columbus Manor, she says. Fewer than a third of students districtwide are of Arab descent, according to Smyth.
Following the example of Lieb Elementary School, Columbus Manor School will exchange the annual Halloween parade for a fall festival next month. The holiday gift bazaars at both schools also will remain, but they’ll likely be moved to the PTA-sponsored after-school winter festival. And Santa’s annual visit probably will be on a Saturday.
Sun-Times News Group