No love for Valentines Day at Roseville schools?

District wants to be inclusive, but some kids feel left out

 

Rumors have been circulating among parents that Roseville Area School District 623 has "banned" Valentine's Day and other holiday celebrations at its schools.

Some concerned moms and dads posted on Facebook that their children were being denied the fun activities they grew up with, such as making and exchanging Valentines Day cards and candies.

According to school administrators, no such policy exists.

"We don't have a policy outlawing children from celebrating Valentine's Day or any other holidays, but we do have a policy on equity," District 623 Board Member Kitty Gogins said in a recent interview.

She said the Roseville district has changed the types of celebrations that students take part in to ones that are less focused on traditional holidays, such as reading festivals. The district is also trying to use the limited class time it has with students for learning purposes, she added.

Roseville schools have experienced dramatic demographic changes in the last decade, and as a result, the district as a whole has removed some traditional Western holiday celebrations from many of its classrooms, such as Halloween, Christmas, Easter and Valentine's Day.

"We are talking about a change in mentality," Gogins said.

There are a lot of factors that have influenced decisions on what type of events or holidays are celebrated in classrooms. There are multiple religious and cultural traditions that need to be respected and economic differences among families in the district as well, Gogins explained.

An October 2012 demographic report compiled by the Roseville Area Schools Office of Teaching and Learning shows that there are 56 languages spoken other than English in the homes of Roseville students, 46 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, and 44 percent are students of color.

"We see the diversity in our schools as a strength," said Peter Olson, Roseville Area Schools director of teaching and learning.

"Having fun is a critical part of learning. We choose to have fun with events that all of our kids can celebrate together."

Secular or religious traditions?

However, some say the efforts to be inclusive have unfairly excluded some students from their important cultural traditions.

Beth Moen Kolodjski is among them. She has two daughters attending Roseville public schools -- one at Emmet D. Williams Elementary School and one at Roseville Area High School.

Kolodjski said she and other parents noticed that things began to change at Emmet D. Williams during the 2009-2010 school year.

It was during this time that school administrators started to evaluate holiday parties at the school. The three main holiday-themed parties evaluated by the school district were Halloween, the December holiday season and Valentine's Day.

In February 2010 Kolodjski said she received a memo from Emmet D. Williams Principal Stacie Stanley that outlined the Roseville School Districts policy regarding the celebration of holiday parties in classrooms.

Kolodjski said she and other parents were disappointed in the policy, part of which stated, "The school district does not support the inclusion of activities that are primarily celebrations of specific religious beliefs and customs."

Parents countered that there was no need to discard modern cultural celebrations on the basis of religious connotations that had long since faded away. The parents asserted that they had instead become secular Western traditions.

"They are taking away all of the fun, meaningful traditions that our kids look forward to and focusing only on study," said Jeff Dimmel, whose daughter is at Emmet D. Williams.

Task force finds few holdouts

Because of the strong reaction to the memorandum, a task force was formed to review and make recommendations for the Halloween, winter and Valentine's Day parties at Emmet D. Williams Elementary School.

The task force was comprised of 12 parents, six staff members and was led by Stanley.

The task force was divided into three subgroups. Kolodjski was a part of the subgroup that was responsible for gathering the community's perspective on the issue.

The group sent out hundreds of questionnaires to students, parents and teachers that collected people's views on the current celebrations policy at the school.

"We received responses from 185 families with children attending the school," Kolodjski said. "The majority of parents allowed their children to attend the parties, and we only received a few responses where parents said they did not allow their children to attend."

Upon collecting and reviewing the questionnaires, the task force reported three parents said they did not allow their children to attend all three holiday parties at the school. Kolodjski recalled one parent said it was for religious reasons; one because of "superficial costumes and candy" and one who apparently misunderstood when the parties took place.

Although the data indicated the majority of students and their parents were in favor of keeping the parties at the school, district administrators stood firm in their decision to suspend the parties from Emmet's classrooms.

Kolodjski said she and other parents on the task force felt that their hard work on the surveys "was in vain."

"The point of creating a task force was to give students and parents a voice, and we feel that our voice wasn't taken into consideration at all," she said.

Valentine's Day celebrations may not be allowed in the classrooms at Emmet D. Williams Elementary, but it has not discouraged Kolodjski's 8-year-old daughter, Maya, from spreading a little love to her classmates. The past two years she has given up some of her recess time to place Valentines Day cards in all of their backpacks. She hopes to do the same this year.

Joshua Nielsen can be reached jnielsen@lillienews.com or 651-748-7824

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