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Nebraska principal put on leave after ‘banning’ Santa, Christmas trees, candy canes

A Nebraska principal angered parents and some teachers by sending out a list of Christmas symbols and activities that were not allowed in class, from Christmas trees to caroling.

“Santa and Christmas items are not to be on activities or copies,” Manchester Elementary principal Jennifer Sinclair’s Christmas memo said. “We have varied religious beliefs in our school, and it is our job to be inclusive.”

That didn’t sit well with some parents.

“If a school’s going to be able to eliminate everything about Christmas, it may not stop there,” parent Jenni Myers said, according to WOWT.

Parents asked for help from Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based non-profit that says it works on First Amendment religious liberty issues, the Omaha World-Herald reports. Liberty Counsel shared a copy of Sinclair’s memo, but the school district declined share what she had sent.

Liberty Counsel wrote to the school district on Nov. 30 demanding the “reversal of the comprehensive ban on all Christmas holiday symbols” because it “violates the U.S. Constitution by showing hostility toward Christianity.” Liberty Counsel didn’t call for Sinclair to be fired.

“In the spirit of Christmas, Liberty Counsel does not desire the removal of Principal Sinclair,” the letter said, adding that the organization is asking for “only her compliance with the law; respect for the rights of others; and respect for cherished holiday traditions.”

District spokesperson Kara Perchal said on Thursday that Sinclair has been put on administrative leave, adding that the memo “does not reflect the policy of Elkhorn Public Schools regarding holiday symbols in the school,” KETV reports.

Sinclair had written in the memo that she wanted to make sure the public school, particularly around Christmas, was “inclusive and culturally sensitive to all of our students.” The memo appeared to be in response to confusion or disagreement about what was and wasn’t allowed.

The list began with Sinclair writing that she felt “uncomfortable that I have to get this specific, but for everyone’s comfort, I will.”

Allowed under the short-lived directive: Gifts to students, snowmen, snowflakes, gingerbread people, sledding, hot chocolate, polar bears, penguins, winter garb, yetis and the character Olaf from the Disney movie “Frozen.”

Not allowed: Santas or Christmas symbols on worksheets, Christmas trees in the classroom, Elf on the Shelf, singing carols, playing Christmas music, making Christmas ornaments as gifts, candy canes, red or green items (“traditional Christmas colors”), reindeer and Christmas videos and movies.

In addition to reversing the Christmas “ban,” an attorney for the school district wrote to Liberty Counsel saying that he “will work with staff to correct any erroneous communications and clarify any misunderstandings,” the World-Herald reports.

According to Elkhorn Public Schools policy, “religious symbols, such as crosses, creches or menorahs may be used as teaching aids in the classroom provided that the symbols are displayed as an example of the cultural and/or religious heritage of the holiday and are temporary in nature.”

Sinclair later apologized for sending out the memo widely rather than to just school staff, WOWT reports.

“I wanted to reach out and make sure our families understand what occurred, and what has been done to correct the issue,” Sinclair told parents. “I understand that the information I initially provided was incorrect and I sincerely apologize for any confusion or concern this has caused and the negative attention this issue brings to the District and Manchester.”

The Liberty Counsel said it was ready to take legal action if the district didn’t reverse course, the World-Herald reports.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit that monitors hate groups, classifies the Liberty Counsel as an anti-LGBT group, writing that in other instances it has advocated “for anti-LGBT discrimination under the guise of religious liberty.”

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