Principal Under Fire Over Christmas Spirit

A Waterbury principal won’t be getting a holiday card from some parents this year. Erik Brown, of Walsh Elementary School, is being criticized for his downplaying of Christmas symbols.

"If a symbol of Christmas takes away from the joy and spirit of Christmas, then those symbols have to go," Brown told the Republican American. "I'm going to pick kids over the symbols of Christmas."

The hubbub began last week, when Board of Education member Paul D’Angelo told others about his plan to get Brown to allow teachers the freedom to celebrate the holiday, the paper reports. D'Angelo also circulated a policy proposal to the Board on Monday that would allow educators freedom to observe holidays as they saw fit.

Soon after, a firestorm of complaints ensued. The elementary school has received endless e-mails and calls from as far away as Delaware, the Rep-Am reports. And it's been covered all over,  including in the Digital Journal.

The messages were nasty and, according to school staff, one person on the other line said “Merry (expletive) Christmas.”

So far, the district has no official policy and principals in the city's 30 schools and educational programs decide what's appropriate.

"As long as the line is not crossed between "teaching" about a holiday and "endorsing" the religion, this is acceptable, but no public school should promote any religious observance," the holiday gatherings memo on the school district Web site says.

Principal Brown says Jehovah's Witnesses are a big part of their school. They find secular Christmas decorations like Santa offensive distractions from Christ. Other parents agree.

"It's ridiculous," said Lisa Enwerem, who attended a student awards ceremony Monday. "There is separation of church and state, and this is a public school."

On the other hand, many other parents thought extra focus on Christmas would be nice.  Walsh parents and teachers who have spoken out on the issue seem to support Brown.

Walsh's upcoming "Winter Festival" will include songs from Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and Christmas. Shortly after becoming principal, Brown ditched Santa Claus to have someone dressed as Frosty the Snowman pass out gifts at the festival.

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