ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A Minnesota elementary school has kissed Valentine's Day goodbye. Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, too.
Bruce Vento Elementary in St. Paul is joining other public schools in opting out of holiday celebrations as school officials strive to be more culturally sensitive and inclusive. The school has a predominantly Asian and black student body, and English is a second language for more than half of its pupils, who come from a range of faith backgrounds.
In a letter to parents last week, Principal Scott Masini said his rationale was to avoid "encroaching on the educational opportunities of others and threatening a culture of tolerance and respect for all." He acknowledged it would be an unpopular decision for some.
"I have come to the difficult decision to discontinue the celebration of the dominant holidays until we can come to a better understanding of how the dominant view will suppress someone else's view," he said.
The letter drew both criticism and support as it started circulating on social media, with some people praising the policy for its sensitivity to diverse cultures and others decrying it as political correctness. The Star Tribune newspaper in Minneapolis ran an editorial calling the decision misguided and urged Masini to reconsider.
As word spread, the school district issued a statement saying its longstanding policy "discourages programs and festivities that celebrate observances unless they are required by law." That means government holidays celebrating the birthdays of President George Washington, President Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr., along with Veterans Day, are still OK.
St. Paul Public Schools spokeswoman Toya Stewart Downey said Wednesday that she wasn't aware of any developments since the district's statement last week. She also said Masini was not available for an interview.
Other schools across the country have also decided to forego holidays out of concern for student sensitivities, while others have adjusted their celebrations.
Thomas R. Scarice, superintendent of Madison Public Schools in Connecticut, told the Star Tribune (http://strib.mn/1KXkxur) that he promotes celebrating holidays in schools while remaining inclusive.
"Children are predisposed to have fun, and once we take those opportunities away, learning suffers," Scarice said.
Some districts have turned to generic seasonal celebrations as a way of not abandoning them entirely.
"We're sensitive to being inclusive but do feel that these celebrations are important for building a sense of community in our schools," said Amy Parnell, spokeswoman for the Wayzata school district in the Minneapolis suburbs.
Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com