School Board re-names ‘Winter Break’

When the South Kitsap School Board voted during May to change the name of the district’s “Winter Break” to “Christmas Break,” there was little reaction either way — until word of the decision began to spread.

School Board President Jim Huff proposed the change at the end of a regular board meeting on May 16 citing the need for students to “return to their roots.”

“Christmas is part of our culture,” Huff said Tuesday, “and I think it’s wrong to pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s political correctness taken to a level of absurdity.”

The board voted 4-1 in favor of the switch with only board member Greg Scott in dissent. At the board’s June 20 meeting, however, board member Chris Lemke moved to re-examine the decision on July 18 when all five board members would be present.

But with Lemke and board member Keith Garton absent from Monday’s meeting, the reconsideration was moved to Aug. 15.

Supporters of the switch, as well as those opposing it, were allowed to give public testimony on Monday night, though the final decision won’t be made until August.

Members of the local Christian community spoke in favor of the change, while other residents and South Colby Elementary School teacher Judy Arbogast spoke against it.

“I think it’s insensitive to the people in the school district that are not Christian,” said Port Orchard resident Sheldon Levin, who has been informing community members across the district of the change. “I think it’s insensitive to Christians who don’t want the government involved in their religion and Christians who acknowledge the different religions in the district.”

Huff, however, continues to support the board’s decision to change the name.

“Christmas is the only federal holiday that we don’t refer to by name,” Huff said. “We discriminate against anything that has to do with Christian culture in our society.”

Huff cited Lynch v. Donnelly, a Supreme Court opinion written in favor of allowing a small Rhode Island city to feature a nativity scene in its Christmas decorations. He said there are definite similarities.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger, writing for the majority in that case, noted, “Based on the record in this case, the city has a secular purpose for including the (nativity) in its Christmas display and has not impermissibly advanced religion or created an excessive entanglement between religion and government.

“The display is sponsored by the city,” Burger said, “to celebrate the holiday recognized by Congress and national tradition and to depict the origins of that Holiday; these are legitimate secular purposes. Whatever benefit to one faith or religion or to all religions inclusion of the creche in the display effects, is indirect, remote, and incidental, and is no more an advancement or endorsement of religion than the congressional and executive recognition of the origins of Christmas, or the exhibition of religious paintings in governmentally supported museums.”

“I would never do anything to discriminate against any religion,” Huff said.

Huff said that Christmas is not just a religious term, but a cultural and historical reference as well.

Levin disagrees.

“To use the argument that the break should be renamed after that one day is absurd,” said Levin, who cited Hanukkah and Kwanzaa as other religious celebrations that take place during the district’s late winter holiday.

Levin is involved in the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as well as having sat on the state affiliate’s board of directors until recently.

“Naming a 14-day break after a religious holiday has not been tested in federal court,” Levin said. “Therefore, the state constitution is the overarching ‘law of the land.’”

The Washington State Constitution states, “...all schools maintained or supported wholly or in part by the public funds shall be forever free from sectarian control or influence.”

Jim Huff resigned from the school board Monday because of what he described as health reasons due to a severe back injury. The board’s decision will be revisited at their meeting Aug. 15 at 7 p.m. at the District Office, 1962 Hoover Ave. SE, in Port Orchard.

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