Monday, December 13, 2004


A 10-year-old girl was placed in handcuffs and taken to a police station because she took a pair of scissors to her elementary school. School district officials said the fourth-grade student did not threaten anyone with the 8-inch shears, but violated a rule that considers scissors to be potential weapons. Administrators said they were following state law when they called police Thursday, and police said they were following department rules when they handcuffed Porsche Brown and took her away in a patrol wagon.

"My daughter cried and cried," said her mother, Rose Jackson. "She had no idea what she did was wrong. I think that was way too harsh." Police officers decided the girl hadn't committed a crime and let her go. However, school officials suspended her for five days. Administrators will decide at a hearing whether she may return to class, or be expelled to a special disciplinary school. The scissors were discovered while students' belongings were being searched for property missing from a teacher's desk.

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Baby Jesus and obvious religious references left public school holiday celebrations long ago, but now even snowflakes are being blown out of some Southwest Florida schools. Instead of Santa and snowmen, students at Freedom Elementary School in East Manatee will be singing about America and patriotism at this year's winter concert. The switch from Nativity scenes to nationalism is the epitome of the new politically correct seasonal celebration. "There's a lot of rules and regulations out there," said Freedom Principal Gary Holbrook, "You're trying to be respectful of everyone."

While it may seem extreme, Freedom Elementary's elimination of all holiday and seasonal references is becoming more common as school administrators struggle to balance political correctness and a desire to celebrate the holidays with their students. Across the region, school officials are scrambling to ensure no one gets offended. They're setting rules that ban religious symbols and in some cases most seasonal references in the classrooms.

The guidelines for "recognizing" the holidays ("celebrating" is against the rules) are so stiff that some administrators don't even want to talk about their school's traditions. "You won't see any Christmas trees around here," said Anthony DiBello, principal of Braden River Middle School in East Manatee County. "We keep it generic." But across the parking lot at Braden River Elementary School, administrators aren't questioning whether to get a Christmas tree. They're deciding whether it will be real or fake. "You don't want to take it away," said Principal Chuck Fradley.

The two principals' different approaches to celebrating the holidays reflect how the rules are being interpreted differently from school to school. Though the rules in most districts ban teachers from displaying holiday symbols in classrooms, they allow them to use the symbols in a lesson. Teachers argue that all holiday symbols have cultural or historical significance that can be included in lessons. "If you want a Christmas tree you should be able to have it," said Haile Middle School teacher Susan Darovec. "It's kind of ridiculous to be treating it as a religious item."

At Lakewood Ranch High School, students set up a "holiday tree" and decorate it with ornaments reflecting all of the season's celebrations, from Hanukkah to Kwanzaa. The history club plans to display holiday traditions

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A Democratic city councilman is demanding that a baker remove photos of President Bush from his stand in Lancaster's farmers market, saying the city needs a "healing period" following the bitterly contested election. City Councilman Nelson Polite asked baker David Stoltzfus last month to remove the pictures. When Stoltzfus refused, Polite threatened to try to enact a city ordinance that would ban all political material from public places. "I just feel that since it was a close election and the city's so divided, that we should have a healing period," Polite told the New Era of Lancaster on Friday.

Republican Mayor Charlie Smithgall said potential visitors have told him they will skip the old city in the heart of Amish country because of Polite's statements. "They're saying, 'What kind of crazy people live in Lancaster? We're never coming to Lancaster,'" Smithgall said Friday.

Stoltzfus, 54, of Lititz, and his wife opened the Upper Crust Bakery stand in March 2003. A Bush photo is attached to the stand portico and a photo of the president and first lady Laura Bush sits on a shelf. The baker said he is enjoying the attention, and other standholders have shown their support by putting up photos of the president. "It's fun," Stoltzfus said Friday. "Even the Democrats come to me and tell me, 'Don't take that picture down.'"

(Source). George Mortensen has some good comments on the affair.

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