By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
In the midst of too many politically correct “Happy Holidays” incidents, the story of an eleven year-old Mississippi boy whose school backed down after penalizing him for mentioning Jesus’ name in a Christmas poem, is a welcome change.
Andrew White, a sixth grade student at Thames Elementary School in the Hattiesburg Public School District, was given an assignment along with the rest of his class to write a “creative expression paper” for the Winter Writer’s Board. Students were permitted to choose between three topics. Andrew chose to write about, “What Christmas Means to Me.”
When he turned in the first draft of his paper, his teacher, Latasha Atkins, circled the word “Jesus” and deducted one point from his grade. She insisted that mentioning Jesus was not allowed and asked him to write a new poem without using the name “Jesus.”
Andrew’s parents discovered what happened only because Andrew was late turning in his final draft. The teacher wrote to his parents and, in an email, told them: “He and another child did a poem about Christ. I know we can’t discuss these type [sic] of things in school so I asked the two of them to do another poem of their choice.”
Andrew’s parents refused to go along with it and encouraged their son to use his original poem as his final draft.
Andrew’s poem, “A Great Christmas,” reads: “The best Christmas ever is when everyone is there. It is when everyone is laughing here and there. That is the Christmas I want to share. Christmas is about Jesus’ birth. About peace on Earth. This is what Christmas is about. It is when He lay in a manger. And the three wise men come to see. That’s what it means to me.”
The principal of the school, Carrie Hornsby, sided with Andrew and his parents, and a legal challenge was avoided, according to Liberty Counsel, a public interest law firm. Hornsby not only gave Andrew a grade of 100, she also instructed each teacher to send out a letter to all parents regarding religious expression at school. The letter clearly explains that religious expression is permitted under federal guidelines.
Mathew D. Staver, Founder of Liberty Counsel and Dean of Liberty University School of Law commented: “Some educators need education that the story of Christmas is not banned from public schools. I am relieved that the situation was resolved by the principal but horrified that a sixth-grader was told by his teacher, ‘we can’t discuss these types of things in school.’ I don’t understand why some people don’t get it. Christmas is a state and federal holiday. Schools are closed to celebrate this holiday. Obviously, Christmas is constitutional.”
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