School memo stirs Santa controversy

OREGON (KGW) - A memo sent to staff members at the Hillsboro School District has stirred a controversy over whether images of Santa Claus should be welcomed in schools.

The memo reads, in part:

We will not be holding a door decorating contest this year. You may still decorate your door or office if you like, but we ask that you be respectful and sensitive to the diverse perspectives and beliefs of our community and refrain from using religious-themed decorations or images like Santa Claus. 

Hillsboro School District spokeswoman Beth Graser told KGW the memo was only sent to secondary principals as a reminder to be sensitive about the environments created in the school over the holiday season.

"We were NOT banning Santa, nor were we going to be the 'decorations police' and scold people if they happened to have decorations up that might be too Christmas-y," Graser said, "unless they were totally over the top."

“If a classroom turns into the Christmas version of a haunted house and you have to walk down candy cane lane then that's a different story.”

The story caught on through social media and sparked a larger conversation about which imagery should and shouldn't be allowed in schools.

She added that there has been no policy change on the matter, and it was meant to ensure that a yearly door decorating contest didn't get out of hand.

"Quite honestly the 'competition' aspect meant that several of the decorations had gotten excessive," she said. "As a result, we had some staff members and visitors to our building indicate that they were uncomfortable and didn’t feel welcome due to the overwhelming Christmas atmosphere that had been created."

She said public schools have a responsibility to ensure all students feel comfortable.

"We need to create inclusive and welcoming spaces for all of our students and realize that many of our students—because of their religion, culture, or other beliefs—do not feel comfortable (and in many cases may not be allowed by their parents) participating in activities that are holiday-based or religious in nature, or being surrounded by imagery that is a direct affront to them," she said.

Here's the memo that was sent out to the human resources department:

Good afternoon,

I wanted to connect  with you before we embark on some changes in our annual celebratory events during this time of year.

In the past, the Human Resources Department has sponsored a holiday door decorating contest in an effort to promote teambuilding and celebrate the season.

Unfortunately, unintended consequence of this activity has been discomfort among several staff members and community visitors. Several people have shared concerns about not feeling welcome at the Administration Center due to the images and artifacts present in our spaces.

Therefore, in an effort to honor the multilingual and multicultural community we serve, we will not be holding a door decorating contest this year. You may still decorate your door or office if you like, but we ask that you be respectful and sensitive to the diverse perspectives and beliefs of our community and refrain from using religious-themed decorations or images like Santa Claus. You are welcome to create a winter wonderland, celebrate the amazing people in your department, or showcase how you have helped our community, students or schools be exceptional this year.

We look forward to our annual Share and Care Potluck celebrating each other on Thursday, December 15, from 11:00am-1:00pm. More information will be coming, but please add this date to your calendar!

Moving forward we encourage you to celebrate this time of the year by giving back to our community. Examples include adopting a family in need, volunteering your time at local organizations that provide resources to our families, a department-sponsored canned food or clothing drive, or finding other ways to celebrate the incredible people we work with every day.

Thank you for being a model of inclusivity for our community. 

Kona Lew-Williams

Chief Human Resources Officer  


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