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Upstate NY school cancels classic holiday song over its potentially 'questionable past'

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Huw Fairclough/Getty Images

An elementary school in upstate New York has removed "Jingle Bells" from its holiday repertoire due to the classic song's supposedly "questionable past," but its claims appear dubious at best.

What are the details?

The principal of Council Rock Primary School in Brighton, New York, confirmed to the Rochester Beacon recently that he decided to replace the popular song with other selections that don’t have the “potential to be controversial or offensive.”

In an email to the outlet, he and other staff members reportedly said the song was removed, in part, based on information shared in a 2017 article written by Boston University professor Kyna Hamill, which digs deep into the origin of the song and its contextual background.

Through her extensive research, Hamill allegedly discovered that the song's first public performance may have occurred at an 1857 minstrel show in Boston, where performers may have donned blackface. The mere possibility was apparently enough for Tappon and colleagues to ban the song altogether.

Interestingly enough, when reached for comment, Hamill told the Beacon that she was "actually quite shocked the school would remove the song from the repertoire," adding that she "in no way, recommended that it stopped being sung by children.”

“My article tried to tell the story of the first performance of the song, I do not connect this to the popular Christmas tradition of singing the song now," she continued, noting the song's popularity has nothing to do with its minstrel origins but rather its "very catchy melody."

What else?

After being confronted with Hamill's surprise, one school representative walked back their claims that the professor's article was the primary reason for banning "Jingle Bells."

“Some suggest that the use of collars on slaves with bells to send an alert that they were running away is connected to the origin of the song Jingle Bells," Allison Rioux, the district's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, argued.

"While we are not taking a stance to whether that is true or not, we do feel strongly that this line of thinking is not in agreement with our district beliefs to value all cultures and experiences of our students. For this reason, along with the idea that there are hundreds of other 5 note songs, we made the decision to not teach the song directly to all students," she concluded.

Hamill noted that the school's fresh claims were mere conjecture and void of any concrete evidence.

Anything else?

Many members of the community have criticized the decision, calling it an overreaction an arguing it is the result of “liberalism gone amok” or “cancel culture at its finest," according to WHAM-TV.

The news outlet posted a poll on Twitter asking residents if they agreed with the decision to remove the song. Ninety-five percent said "No."

But according to the Rochester Beacon, the school's choice came as no surprise. The outlet said the district has adopted several controversial diversity and inclusion policies in recent years.

Starting in second grade, teachers are encouraged to infuse into classrooms ideas about cultural and racial equity. And the district has reportedly hired "diversity consultants" to advise teachers to “move away” from using gendered terms such as “boys and girls," but instead refer to students as “learners,” “friends,” “thinkers,” or “Council Rock Citizens.”

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