A Nebraska elementary school principal who banned a long list of Christmas-related items — including candy canes because the "J" shape stands "for Jesus" — was placed on administrative leave last week, one day after she issued an apology to parents, the Associated Press reported.
What's the background?
Liberty Counsel — a law firm focused on religious freedom — caught wind of a memo from principal Jennifer Sinclair that instructed staff at Manchester Elementary School in Omaha what items weren't allowed:
- Santas or Christmas items (clip art) on worksheets
- Christmas trees in classrooms
- Elf on the Shelf — that's Christmas-related
- Singing Christmas carols
- Playing Christmas music
- Sending a Scholastic book that is a Christmas book — that's Christmas-related
- Making a Christmas ornament as a gift —This assumes that the family has a Christmas tree which assumes they celebrate Christmas. I challenge the thought of, "Well they can just hang it somewhere else."
- Candy Cane — that's Christmas-related. Historically, the shape is a "J" for Jesus. The red is for the blood of Christ, and the white is a symbol of his resurrection. This would also include different colored candy canes.
- Red/Green items — traditional Christmas colors
- Christmas videos/movies and/or characters from Christmas movies
Sinclair — in her first year as Manchester's principal — noted in the memo that she "come[s] from a place that Christmas and the like are not allowed in schools" and that "as a public school" Manchester Elementary will be seek to be "inclusive and culturally sensitive to all of our students."
Her memo noted that allowable items included snowmen, snow women, snow people, snowflakes, gingerbread people, polar bears, and penguins.
"Please reflect on what you've already copied, prepped and posted," Sinclair concluded in her memo. "I'm hopeful we can avoid the discomfort of me directly questioning something you've copied, posted and had your kids do. That makes me uncomfortable, and I know it doesn't feel good." She signed the memo, "The (Unintentional) Grinch who stole Christmas (from Manchester)."
Liberty Counsel sent a demand letter to the superintendent of Elkhorn Public Schools, urging it to "immediately overrule and specifically disavow the sweeping directive banning Christmas holiday items, and require Principal Sinclair to undertake review of District policy and the law."
The district's Dec. 3 response to Liberty Counsel said it had "investigated this matter and determined that Principal Sinclair's memorandum did not comply with Board Policy" and that Manchester staffers were advised that "certain Christmas symbols" are permissible. Elkhorn Public Schools told TheBlaze last week that Sinclair also issued an apology.
Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said in a statement that he was pleased with the district's decision and said the "outrageous three-page memo by Principal Sinclair was not based on ignorance of the law but hatred toward Christianity and Christmas."
Despite Sinclair's apology letter to parents last Wednesday, the AP said she was placed on administrative leave Thursday for violating district policy that allows Christmas trees, Santa, and other secular, seasonal symbols. The district declined to answer the AP's questions about when or whether Sinclair would return to her post. An Elkhorn spokesperson on Monday didn't immediately reply to TheBlaze's question regarding if her leave is paid or unpaid.
Liberty Counsel's demand letter concluded, "In the spirit of Christmas, Liberty Counsel does not desire the removal of Principal Sinclair; only her compliance with the law; respect for the rights of others; and respect for cherished holiday traditions."
Staver of Liberty Counsel told TheBlaze in a Monday statement that "we did not ask that Principal Jennifer Sinclair be placed on administrative leave" but "will not second-guess the school district's decision" to do so.
Sinclair could not be reached Friday for comment, the AP said.
What did parents, others have to say?
A report from KETV-TV noted some parents last Thursday said they support Sinclair and that "she made a mistake." Parents and others who spoke to KMTV-TV were divided regarding the district placing Sinclair on leave.
"I feel that something was wrong with what she was doing," Vicki Dryden, a grandmother of a Manchester student, told KMTV. "It was kind of enforcing or making the rest of her school think the way she did." Dryden added to the station that she was "fine" with Sinclair being placed on leave.
A mother of two students who didn't want to be identified told KMTV she was "gutted" by Sinclair being placed on leave. "My stomach kind of sank for her when I got that email," she noted to the station, adding that "I just don't think we could ask for a better principal."
This story has been updated with Liberty Counsel's statement regarding the district placing Sinclair on administrative leave.