The chair of Vancouver Board of Education (VBE) and even the provincial minister of education waded in after Jewish students at a Vancouver elementary school went public with concerns that they were being made to feel excluded by exclusively Christian holiday symbolism.
Students Maya Sontz and Rebecca Weinberg went public last week after asking the principal of General Gordon Elementary, Hope Sterling, to add some Chanukah decorations to the Christmas trees, wreaths and other Christmas decorations up around the school. The girls said they were rebuffed by the principal, who claimed the Christmas decorations were not religious symbols, while a chanukiyah or other Chanukah items would be. The holiday concert was to include songs about Santa, reindeer and trees, which the principal defended as being “cultural” symbols, not religious ones.
The principal’s position drew rebukes over the weekend from Janet Fraser, chairperson of the board of education. “The VBE sincerely regrets any practices at General Gordon Elementary that have negatively impacted a sense of inclusion and representation for students and parents within our school community,” she wrote. “As chairperson, I apologize on behalf of the board to the students and their families who did not feel welcomed and included at their school. We acknowledge that, in the interpretation and implementation of our policies, there has been confusion about what is permitted as part of upcoming winter celebrations, including Chanukah. The board chairperson and school district staff will be meeting with members of the families … to ensure that their children, as well as all others, are included and represented in their school.”
In response to Fraser’s statement, Rob Fleming, B.C. minister of education tweeted: “ALL children, regardless of ethnicity, religion or gender should feel and be welcome to celebrate who they are in every single one of our #bced schools.… Thank you for your leadership upholding inclusive schools @VSB39 and @janetrfraser.… Let’s #celebrate diversity this year!”
Administrators were to meet with school officials, parents and students Monday to address the issue.
“It is called a public school, so, if you’re going to invite everybody, you’ve sort of got to include everybody,” 11-year-old Maya Sontz told CTV news.