The principal at Bruce Vento elementary in St. Paul, Minnesota decided last week to ban celebrations of all major holidays, including Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
Principal Scott Masini let the parents of his students know about the Valentine’s Day ban and his own reasoning behind the decision via a lengthy letter posted on a private Facebook group, says Minnesota’s Star Tribune.
“One of the concerns that I have is whether or not this practice is encroaching on the educational opportunities of others and threatening the culture of tolerance and respect for all,” the letter reads.
“I’m struggling with this and I don’t know what the right answer is. But, what I do know is celebrating some holidays and not others is not inclusive of all of the students we serve.”
So basically, some of the parents reasoned, Masini was being reasonable by trying to enforce cultural tolerance. After all, the Indian festival of Diwali and the Southeast Asian mid-autumn festival are not observed. Why should a European American holiday like Valentine’s Day or Halloween take precedence over those?
Masini pointed to the very diverse student body at Bruce Vento to support his decision to ban Valentine’s Day celebrations, such as outlawing heart-shaped candies on school grounds, in a statement released later that day.
“Because Saint Paul Public Schools is a diverse district that is filled with families from around the world we strive to respect all cultures and all students. We recognize that not every student celebrates or participates in some or all holidays. We have a board policy that discourages programs and festivities that celebrate observances unless they are required by law.”
According to Daily Mail, the school’s student population is 63 percent Asian-American (who are likely composed of many different nationalities and cultural backgrounds), 24 percent African-American, 10 percent Hispanic-American, and four percent Caucasian-American.
Masini’s decision may also be partly because of economics. Ninety-six percent of the families whose children attend Bruce Vento are economically challenged enough to require lunch subsidies, and as a respondent to Masini’s letter pointed out, buying things for classmates on Valentine’s Day ain’t cheap.
“There is incredible social pressure at all ages to provide cards and candy for all the kids in your class. For families living in poverty, this can be all but impossible.”
Again, a small portion of the parents fully backed Masini’s “senstitive” decision to ban celebrations of Valentine’s Day and other major holidays in the school, but a majority spoke out against the decision, using phrases like “very sad” and “totally ridiculous” to describe it.
“I teach at LEAP High School,” one woman wrote. “We have all immigrant students. They absolutely love celebrating Halloween and Valentine’s Day. They are learning about American culture, just as we are learning about their cultures.”
Another common point was that holidays such as Valentine’s Day and Thanksgiving are not religious and therefore should not even be interpreted as exclusionary of anyone’s beliefs.
Contempt for the Valentine’s Day embargo soon spread, and within days local news stations were speaking out against it.
“A St. Paul school is putting a stake in the very heart of Valentine’s Day,” wrote Bob Collins on the Minnesota Public Radio blog.
But as several other Minnesota school principals, superindendents, and education board officials argue, a ban similar to Masini’s is not as harsh as people like Collins make it out to be, and they are actually implementing comparable policies in the schools they are in charge of.
“The policy that we’ve had in place talks about rather than celebrating a holiday or anything around a certain religion, it’s turned into a learning activity. So for Valentine’s Day, the children will be talking about friendship and that becomes the lesson,” said Tami DeLand, Minnesota District 742’s director of communications.
DeLand explained to WJON that on Valentine’s Day, “the card-giving is not focused on the holiday in an effort to include students of all cultures.”
Time will tell whether all signs of Valentine’s Day will be stricken from Bruce Vento completely, or whether the administration will simply implement an “explicitly Valentine’s-related” ban like DeLand went with.
In any case, Valentine’s Day is only the first holiday that Bruce Vento students will be missing out on. Even after the day comes in two weeks, it is probable that more sparks will fly when the late-year American holiday season rolls around.
[Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]