Thursday, April 27, 2006

DENVER — A Colorado school district has voted to restore the name of its two-week December holiday to “Christmas break.”

The Falcon School District 49 school board voted 3-2 earlier this month to make the switch from “winter break” after a board member broached the subject in December, touching off a spirited public debate that included comments from more than 100 parents.

“We certainly had testimony on both sides, but the preponderance of testimony and e-mails were 10-to-1 in favor of restoring it to Christmas,” board member Dave Stark said.

What astounded some parents in Falcon was that no one could figure out when “Christmas” became “winter.” Since 1899, the Falcon School District had observed “Christmas break,” but at some point in the past 10 years, the district’s Calendar Committee unilaterally changed the name to “winter break.”

“We found out the committee had done it without any public input, that they decided to censor the name in a back room,” Mr. Stark said. “The superintendent told us it should never have been changed without public discussion. There was much more anger over the fact that it was changed without a vote.”

Located on the eastern edge of Colorado Springs, the district serves 10,000 children in a fast-growing community known for its military bases and religious organizations.

The decision came as a victory for the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), a pro-Christian legal defense organization that has urged school districts to put the Christmas back in their holiday festivities through its annual Christmas Project.

“Groups like Americans United [for Separation of Church and State] and the ACLU for a long time have intimidated schools into censoring seasonal religious expression,” ADF senior legal counsel Mike Johnson said. “We feel there’s a lot of misinformation out there.”

Mr. Johnson said his group would represent the school district in the event of a lawsuit, although none has materialized. At the same time, he said he was confident the district would prevail in any legal battle.

“The Constitution does not require government officials to censor religious observances from public schools,” he said.

The vote came amid a national debate over the public disappearance of the word “Christmas.” Many stores and public displays have replaced “Merry Christmas” with secular phrases such as “Happy Holidays,” much to the consternation of some Christians.

The board’s April 6 vote came as something of a surprise. After months of public comment, the district’s calendar committee had agreed to designate Dec. 25 and 26 “Christmas break,” while the rest of the holiday would remain “winter break,” district spokesman Joe Cole said.

Instead of approving the committee’s recommendation, however, Mr. Stark moved to rename the entire two-week period “Christmas break.”

The three board members who approved the name change were elected in November. Those who cast dissenting votes said they were concerned that the issue didn’t involve education or student achievement.

“It’s not like we don’t believe in Christmas,” board President David Martin said in the Colorado Springs Gazette.

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