Texas school district bans Santa Claus, gift exchanges in classrooms

The Fort Worth Star-TelegramDecember 2, 2011 

FORT WORTH -- Some parents say the Fort Worth school district is playing Grinch this holiday season.

"In their effort to be PC, they've achieved the absurd," parent Brandon Brewer wrote in an e-mail to the Star-Telegram.

Brewer is unhappy because he says the district is essentially making it impossible to celebrate Christmas -- and other holidays -- at school.

On Thursday, the district's attorney sent a memo to staff explaining that students should not be allowed to exchange gifts or "distribute personal holiday messages" during class.

Bertha Bailey Whatley's memo says there are legal concerns associated with the distribution of personal holiday messages.

"For example, if students are allowed to exchange cards or small trinkets, the district would be required to allow a student to distribute a religious message with the gift or card," the memo says.

"In other words, the school district cannot prohibit the distribution of unsolicited religious material directly to students if it allows other personal messages to be distributed during school activities held during the school day."

Students can, however, exchange gifts and cards before and after school and during lunch, district spokesman Clint Bond said.

Students can say "Merry Christmas" to one another during the school day, Bond said.

The memo also says Santa Claus is not allowed to visit classes.

However, the memo says, "seasonal decorations are appropriate if they are not religious in nature" and classroom parties are allowed if they "serve an appropriate instructional purpose."

David Rapp, a Weatherford attorney and parent of two Fort Worth district students, said he sent the district an e-mail challenging portions of the memo.

"By following these guidelines, with respect to the passing around of gifts or cards, you will be violating the constitution itself by prohibiting the free exercise of religion," Rapp wrote. "These guidelines are absurd and wrong."

Other districts say they don't have written guidelines or policies that address specifics of holiday celebrations.

To read the complete article, visit www.star-telegram.com.

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