BLOOMINGDALE - The Bloomingdale Elementary School's annual holiday concert won't include songs referencing Christmas, Hanukkah or Santa Claus, and some people aren't happy about it.
Pam Coats has three grandchildren in the school district, including a fifth-grader at the Bloomingdale school. She told the Enterprise the school has opted to leave songs like "Silent Night" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" out of this year's program at the Holiday Sing-Along, scheduled for Dec. 19 in Bloomingdale.
"They basically have to be strictly winter songs," Coats said. "The basis I understand for this is there is a Muslim child in their school system, and the child does not attend the festival because he or she does not practice Christianity."
Coats said she's not alone in her concerns. She said she's canvassed teachers and parents, and they're not happy either.
"It's not that they want to disrespect this child and this child's family, but why can't we do what we've done in the past and incorporate the different cultures into the program, like we've done for the Jewish people?" Coats asked. "We've always incorporated all the programs so no one would feel left out. Yet we wouldn't be asked to sacrifice our traditions, our Christianity and our culture. We'd incorporate it and move on."
Coats' granddaughter, fifth-grader Alexandra Mitchell, circulated a petition with another student in hopes of restoring the traditional holiday music to the concert's program. They obtained about 40 signatures and handed it over to the school's principal, Theresa Lindsay.
Coats said Lindsay told the children the subject was not open for discussion.
"I think people are obligated to challenge if they feel something is totally over the wall," Coats said.
Alexandra's mother, Erin Mitchell, said she attended Bloomingdale for elementary school and never had similar problems.
"I had a young lady in our school that was a Jehovah's Witness," Erin said. "Jehovah's Witnesses don't celebrate Christmas, and she didn't say the Pledge of Allegiance, but the school worked around that. They didn't make her feel like an outcast."
Erin said area schools have included Jewish songs in holiday concerts to teach children about diversity. She noted that she understands why a school would leave out a song like "Silent Night" but was surprised that songs like "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and "All I Want for Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth)" would also be left out of the program.
"How do you explain diversity to your kids when you don't agree with how it's being taught?" Erin asked. "If you're going to make changes in the school district, they really need to sit these kids down and explain it to them."
Speaking to the district's Board of Education Wednesday night, Coats said the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, which has been retained by the district to teach new anti-bullying policies, should be used to explain diversity is situations like this.
"This is very important to me, as it is with other people in the community," Coats said.
School board President Debra Lennon said the district is working on having difficult conversations about diversity. She said Lindsay would be willing to discuss the recent decision with parents.
"Sometimes we're not very skilled at having these kinds of conversations," Lennon said.
Coats said parents can sometimes feel bombarded by sudden change, especially when they're not asked for input.
Lindsay and district Superintendent Gerald Goldman could not be immediately reached for comment.
Contact Chris Morris at 518-891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.