January 29, 2023

FESTIVAL OF SPITE: This DeSantis law almost canceled a school Hanukkah demo

FOP ED: Ron DeSantis's plan to install unqualified vets as teachers has failed abysmally

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Thanks to Ron DeSantis’s restrictive, confusing Parents Bill of Rights (Don’t Say Gay) law, a Hanukkah tradition at a Florida school was almost canceled.

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The school that denied a student’s parent request to give a Hanukkah presentation reversed its decision only after journalists started questioning it.

For nearly a decade, Pasco County mom Rachel Long has used the holiday season to expose her children and their classmates to the Jewish holiday Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights.

The day after Thanksgiving, Long reached out to her son’s fifth-grade teacher to set up a day and time to present to the class – something she’s done since her oldest son was in pre-school.

“Can I come in to do a Hanukkah presentation?” the mother texted.

At first, the teacher seemed open, telling Long she’d get back to her. “I will speak to the ladies to determine what day and time will be best. We are entering our 2nd round of FAST testing and our schedules will be fluctuating,” the educator responded.

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That would soon change.

Four days after her initial request, Long received an early morning text from her son’s teacher telling the mom the presentation did not meet the Parental Bill of Rights fifth-grade standards.

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As per discussions with the team and Admin, the new Parent Bill of Rights obligates us to follow the 5th Grade Standards as written. At this time, a Chanukah presentation is not in our standards.

Florida’s public schools are prohibited by 2021 legislation from “celebrating any holidays,” Florida Politics reported.

However, parents have the choice to opt their children out of any instruction that is contradictory to their moral or religious beliefs.

Apparently, that doesn’t apply to Christmas, Long contended, noting Christmas-themed décor throughout a “holiday shop” in the school and a host of related activities.

“(The principal) explained these things by saying they are holiday-themed, not Christmas, and parents are able to opt their students out. Teachers are allowed to have Christmas trees in their rooms but are not allowed to do Elf on The Shelf. If students can participate in all these activities or be opted out, I suggested that students could be opted out of my Hanukkah presentation.”

Long’s short presentation steers clear of any mention of religion, instead focusing on the story of Hanukkah – reading a short story, and giving the students dreidels for use in a game.

During a conversation with the principal of the New Port Richey elementary school, Long was told that if she was allowed to do her presentation that “they would have to teach Kwanza, and Diwali,” to which the mother replied, “That would be wonderful.”

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That didn’t seem like the answer they wanted to hear.

The principal promised to speak with school’s Assistant Superintendent Kimberly Poe on Long’s behalf, but it wouldn’t be until after the district was contacted by reporters from Florida Politics, that the decision was reversed.

“I am just trying to expose my child’s classmates to different traditions,” Long said.

Original reporting by Jesse Scheckner at Florida Politics. 

Follow Ty Ross on Twitter @cooltxchick

Ty Ross

News journalist for Washington Press and Occupy Democrats.

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