This story has been updated...
St. Patrick's Day is a holiday rooted in Christian values, however secular celebrations are also regularly held to commemorate the day. In fact, for a great many, the religious tones aren't even a consideration, as alcohol, Shamrock shakes and other fun-filled elements regularly dominate the day's observations.
Considering these elements -- and the relatively low-key nature the holiday has here in America -- it's surprising that such a major controversy has broken out at a Massachusetts elementary school. The Soule Road School in Wilbraham came under fire after media reports that school leaders were replacing St. Patrick's Day's name out of concern over inclusiveness. Following the allegations, the district has now responded, claiming that the reports were inaccurate and that the holiday was never under assault.
ABC40 (their story is now amended, but their initial video report is available, below) reported on charges that the school's celebration of the holiday had been amended. The holiday, ABC40 said, was swapped out for the more generic "O'Green Day." MassLive.com's Patrick Johnson reported the following about ABC40's treatment of the event:
Abc40 is reporting O'Green Day is not a tribute to the mega-successful San Francisco-based rock band Green Day, but a heavy-handed attempt to instill political correctness among the impressionable 4th and 5th graders.
In an updated article, ABC40 explains what led to its initial coverage:
Wednesday, we brought you a story after several parents contacted ABC40 concerned that the principal of Soule Road School, Lisa Curtin, was changing the name of St. Patrick’s Day to “O’Green Day.”
ABC40 made repeated attempts to reach both Superintendent Martin O’Shea and Principal Curtin for comment and address the concerns raised by the parents who contacted ABC40, as well as an explanation of “O’Green Day.” Principal Curtin had no comment Wednesday, and the Superintendent of Schools didn’t return our calls.
As stated, the school's principal, Lisa Curtin, was accused of acting out of inclusiveness, however the district's Superintendent Marty O’Shea responded to the controversy today and attempted to debunk the charges against her. O'Shea wrote his thoughts and some clarifications in an email to parents, specifically addressing the school and district's silence on the matter:
To begin, the Channel 40 story wrongly attributes quotes and motives to Mrs. Curtin. Mrs. Curtin and I both declined to comment on this story so as to not legitimize or give credibility to it. Secondly, and most importantly, Soule Road has not changed the name of St. Patrick’s Day. It is noted as St. Patrick’s Day on the Soule Road school calendar and will be in future years. O’Green Day, on Friday, March 16, the day before St. Patrick’s Day, was set up as a day to encourage students to celebrate the holiday by wearing green. As in previous years, Soule Road’s approach to St. Patrick’s Day is organized and planned in conjunction with your PTO. This year’s activities recognize St. Patrick’s Day in exactly the same way it has been recognized for the last several years. Mrs. Curtin did not change any practice associated with this. A green theme in March has been used by your PTO to incorporate a number of fun, educational activities planned for the children of Soule Road during the month and is aimed at recognizing Soule’s school color, the coming of spring, healthy lunch choices and St. Patrick’s Day. I have complete confidence that Soule Road children have been given many exciting opportunities to show their St. Patrick’s Day spirit.
So, according to the district, it was the local Parent-Teacher Organization and not Curtin that decided on the celebrations. Below, see the original news report that helped set off the controversy:
In the initial report, the school was accused of doing something similar for St. Valentine's Day, which, in some classrooms, was said to be referred to as "Caring and Kind Day." This was not addressed in the superintendent's letter. The video report, though, also provides comments from residents who seem to be under the impression that the holiday swap is happening.
"I think it's really stupid," said local resident Janet Carlyle. "I don't understand why they would change history's old holiday names to something just to remove the essence of religion of it when it's not really religious holidays."
Another parent reportedly said that the changes were made to accommodate "faith issues."
"I think in today’s world to try and make children understand caring and consideration is, I can understand from that point of view," said Joan Harrington, a former high school teacher. "As someone who’s been around a long time, the holidays have meaning to me."
A copy of the school's calendar shows March 16 listed as "O’Green Day / Tasting’ of the Green," although St. Patrick's Day does, indeed, appear on the calendar (on Saturday). On this day, students are apparently being encouraged to wear green and they will be treated to special, green colored vegetables in the cafeteria:
Scott R. Chapman, Chairman of the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School Committee, also released a statement this afternoon to address the controversy. In it, the district reiterates that the school "has not" and "will not" change the name of St. Patrick's Day. However, nowhere is the creation of "O'Green Day" mentioned.
The Blaze attempted to reach district officials to speak further about the creation of "O'Green Day" and the "Caring and Kind Day." So far, we have been unable to reach the district's press office to discuss the matter further. Below, read Chapman's statement in its entirety:
Scott R. Chapman, Chairman of the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School Committee stated, “The Regional School District has not and will not change the name of St. Patrick’s Day as reported by the local news media.”
The HWRSD recognizes the important place that St. Patrick’s Day has in the history of our country. Chairman Chapman stated, “We have and will continue to celebrate the holiday by name and in a way that accentuates and supplements the District Curriculum.” The Student Handbook states that the District respects the historical traditions of holidays and allows for classroom activities as appropriate.
Chapman concluded, “All of our Nation’s traditional holidays are recognized and will continue to be recognized by our District and incorporated in learning activities where appropriate as part of our educational mission.”
We will continue to monitor this story as it develops.