Dexter Thielhelm, a second-grader at James Madison Elementary School in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, had a simple message for his classmates: "Jesus loves you." The young boy had worked diligently with his mother and siblings to create candy and notes for his friends at school, as he filled empty water bottles with candy and a rolled-up a Bible verse (John 3:16) to share with his classmates. But earlier this week, to the surprise of the boy and his family, school officials confiscated the valentines before they could be handed out.
Apparently, it is district policy that Christian valentines not be distributed -- a message that Melissa Wolf, Dexter's mother, received when she met with principal Matthew Driscoll this week. The verse, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life," was apparently too religious in nature for the school to allow to be disseminated.
Wolf, 30, who has spoken out to media outlets, says that she's not happy with the way in which the principal handled the situation. Driscoll, however, declined to comment to media on Wednesday.
"He wishes I would have asked him for permission to hand out this questionable material," Wolf explained, describing her interaction with the principal. "I did not get an apology. I got an apology that he didn't call me; I didn't get an apology for taking this away from my children. He sat and listened to me kindly, and heard the things that made me upset."
Here's the really intriguing element to the story. Wolf has two other children at the same school. Both of whom are autistic and nonverbal. These children made similar valentines and they, too, were confiscated. But one of her other children who attends a different school -- a local charter institution -- handed his notes out without a hitch, the Wausau Daily Herald reports.
While Wolf is clearly frustrated by the situation, the district's assistant superintendent, Mark Holzman, addressed the issues and attempted to explain the rationale behind the confiscation. The district doesn't have a specific policy that bans religious verses being handed out on Valentine's Day, he said, but the young age of the children was one of the primary reasons he cited (i.e. the students aren't old enough to understand the religious message).
The district also had concerns that the Christian content could lead others with negative messages to also distribute to fellow classmates. After all, once one person is allowed to hand out a message, any individual can then tout his or her values, Holzman argued.
"Otherwise we would be allowing anybody to give out personal messages or values," Holzman explained. "If somebody wanted to put anti-Semitism in there … people would be outraged by that. If kids have a choice, it's a different scenario. But in this case we're talking about handing it out to everyone in the class, and they don't have a choice."
Wolf says that, though the school attempted to explain to Dexter why the valentines couldn't be handed out, he was embarrassed and confused by the incident.
(H/T: Wausau Daily Herald)