Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bah, humbug! No Christmas play here


From page A2 | October 10, 2012 | 31 Comments

If you’re not already sitting, you’re best advised to do so now. Yes, in another one of those “only in Davis” moments, officials of the Davis Joint Unified School District have stepped in to cancel Emerson Junior High School’s production of a stage version of Charles Dickens’ 1843 classic, “A Christmas Carol.”

The reason: that ugly word “Christmas.”

Students in the play were informed of the decision at Monday’s rehearsal. The drama teacher in charge of the production, Gina Smith, then sent an email to parents of the students involved explaining how the play had been unceremoniously taken away from them after auditions had been completed. If the play was to be canceled, it should have happened long before all these kids invested their hopes and their dreams and their hard work toward earning a part in the production.

Writes Smith: “We wanted to let you know that at rehearsal this afternoon representatives from the Davis Joint Unified School District announced the cancellation of our production of Carol Baizley’s ‘A Christmas Carol.’

“Emerson Principal Alicia Cummings, Da Vinci Vice Principal Troy Reeves and Executive Director of Student Services Pam Mari discussed with the kids the district decision and their reasons behind it,” Smith goes on.

“Some of the factors they shared were the overly impacted December schedule, which led to the original performance dates falling on Hanukkah, concerns about the inclusiveness of material, and the desire of the district to respect the cultures of everyone. Another point that was discussed was the power of words and the impact they can have.”

Ah yes, the old strategy of “celebrating diversity” by banning everything that might even remotely “offend” someone.

It’s interesting, though, that this is the same school district that willingly moved last year’s high school Homecoming celebration after learning that it conflicted with Yom Kippur, a good and decent decision if there ever was one.

And it’s the same school district that has absolutely no problem with its celebrated Madrigal Choir performing religious-themed songs at both the Vatican and at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacramento in Sacramento.

Adds Smith: “Please know that I met extensively with the administration to discuss every conceivable way to make the show work. We are all deeply disappointed that a better resolution could not be reached.”

A whole bunch of us share in your disappointment, Gina.

The really silly — not to mention tragic — thing here is “A Christmas Carol” has very little at all to do with Christmas. It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, The Christmas story. In short, “A Christmas Carol” concerns Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim, not Joseph and Mary and Baby Jesus.

The story of the Savior being born in a stable in Bethlehem is clearly inappropriate in a public school setting. Just as clearly, the classic story of a crotchety old miser and his change of heart is not in any way, shape or form inappropriate in a public school setting.

From reading Gina Smith’s email and the comments of many others, it’s apparent that the fact the play would be presented during Hanukkah was the deciding factor in the cancellation.

Which is utter silliness. How can the content of a school play be offensive on one date and not offensive on another? There is nothing in “A Christmas Carol” that’s offensive to anyone, unless maybe your name happens to be Ebenezer Scrooge.

Hanukkah and Christmas are not in competition with one another. Both are warm, wonderful and deeply meaningful celebrations. As a Christian, I’ve been fortunate many Decembers to share latkes and light Menorah candles with my Jewish friends.

Does the school district cancel high school baseball games and tennis matches and school plays and dances on Good Friday? Of course not. And it shouldn’t.

Is it offensive to me that the district doesn’t cancel such events? Heavens no. Respect for religious freedom means I’m free to practice my faith and attend my sacred observances, but it doesn’t mean everyone else’s world has to come to a screeching halt while I do so.
According to one parent of a disappointed student, the word “Christmas” in the title was the deciding factor in the cancellation.

The decision, this parent noted, “Seems to be over the title and not the subject matter.” Rumor has it that Gina Smith, the director, actually called the publishing company seeking permission to present the show under a different title without the word “Christmas,” but was denied.

Next thing you know, the district will ban “Fiddler on the Roof” because it has a Jewish theme. And you just have to believe St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, Kwanzaa, Ramadan and the Easter Bunny will be the next to go.

There is, fortunately, a silver lining to all this. Those dedicated Emerson drama students who were so directly and negatively affected by the cancellation of their school play have learned some valuable life lessons.

Chief among those lessons is that when school district officials put their heads together, they sometimes make incredible, jaw-dropping mistakes that hurt the hopes and dreams of the students in their charge.

This is one such occasion.

— Reach Bob Dunning at


Discussion | 31 comments

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  • Really...October 10, 2012 - 7:36 am

    Unbelievable, what did one parent complain? I know of some Davis schools who aren't going to call it Halloween, it has to be called the "Fall Parade". Can you imagine kids ringing your front door and shouting "Fall Parade"?

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  • Really...October 10, 2012 - 7:42 am

    I'm glad the publishing company refused to let the word "Christmas" be taken out of the title. Way to stand their ground. Too bad the DJUSD can't show a little backbone and do the same.

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  • The World's Gone CrazyOctober 10, 2012 - 7:48 am

    Only in Davis.

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  • Lisa WallaceOctober 10, 2012 - 8:03 am

    I feel sorry for the kids who had already started practicing the play. What a disappointment for them!

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  • AnnaPriceOctober 10, 2012 - 9:10 am

    This a multi cultural, multi religions country. The challenge is to understand and respect each other. Continuing to try to cover up these differences instead of celebrating them leads to resentment and conflict that can fester and erupt in fanatism and extreme discrimination. Returning to the1950s when children said grace over cookies and milk is not possible. We live in a much more diverse time and we are exposed to different cultures and religions all the time as the world continues towards a truly global economy. It continues to be true that Power can corrupt and it appears that this group of people have sucomed.

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  • Mary Ann LemonsOctober 10, 2012 - 11:31 am

    Just because the title has the word, "Christian" in it should not have offended the school and district administrators. It is a historically acclaimed book, for pete's sake. How sad that there is no backbone in any of the Davis school district "officials" to stand up for the students and do what is right for them instead of sucking up to sick political "correctness" ideologies. Shame on them.

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  • Julie Cole-MarieOctober 10, 2012 - 11:48 am

    This is ridiculous! Another example of those we are called to be tolerant and accepting of being intolerant. Perhaps those who made the decision should actually read the story. And attempting to rename Charles Dickens' work something that doesn't have the name Christmas in it is absurd. We have lost our minds. Religious freedom and tolerance is for ALL religions, not for every religion except Christianity.

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  • KathyOctober 10, 2012 - 12:15 pm

    Bravo Bob!!!!! If anyone has even read Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol they would know that it has absolutely nothing to do with religion. All I hear is diversity, diversity, diversity but when a certain group decide they have issues they play the "Religion Card!!" What's next??? Stop the Nutcracker production?? Stop questionable production choices with Davis Musical Theatre??? Nobody's forcing them to participate at all!! Thanks for ruining it for the rest of us!!! Again the majority doesn't seem to matter and we get the fuzzy end of the lolipop!!

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  • Elisabeth DubinOctober 10, 2012 - 1:21 pm

    This makes the administrators in question look very bad, rather than sensitive and politically correct. The timing of the cancellation is what makes the religion issue look like a red herring. Who cancels a production after all the prep and planning have been done, auditions have been completed and rehearsals are underway?

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  • Susan MillerOctober 10, 2012 - 1:54 pm

    I am very happy to announce that a letter was emailed this afternoon from the Superintendent's office, reinstating the play. I am uncertain as to the performance dates at this time, but I hope you all will come the the show.

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  • Realy...October 10, 2012 - 2:23 pm

    Great to hear. Maybe the DJUSD got wind of these posts and how the people really feel about the overly too PC decisions. At least they came to their senses this time. Hopefully they don't try anything this ignorant again.

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  • wdf1October 10, 2012 - 2:25 pm

    Glad to hear it, Susan!

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  • The World's Gone CrazyOctober 10, 2012 - 5:56 pm

    Two points Bob!!!

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  • Louise CravenOctober 10, 2012 - 3:48 pm

    ... but they approved Avenue Q as this year's high school musical??!!

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  • Tanya PerezOctober 10, 2012 - 5:58 pm

    Here’s the entire letter from DJUSD superintendent Winfred Roberson: ——— I am writing to inform you that Emerson students will be allowed to perform the play, “A Christmas Carol” on December 6, 7 & 9. I am also writing to provide additional clarification and perspective as to why it was recently cancelled. ——— Each spring, our school sites are asked to finalize their school event calendars for the upcoming school year. Given the number of school and district-wide performances in DJUSD, this process helps us plan a coherent calendar that acknowledges traditional American holidays and shows sensitivity to the holidays that are celebrated by non- dominant cultures within our school communities. ——— The planning and scheduling of the play, “A Christmas Carol” at Emerson did not follow this process. We were recently made aware that one of the play dates fell on the beginning day of Hanukkah, unintentionally excluding a portion of the Emerson school community; this was expressed in a letter written to the drama teacher and principal. ——— Secondly, the play’s “Christmas” reference also raised concerns. Precedence around the use of the term Christmas in state supported schools has already been established in California; it is why we say happy holidays instead of Merry Christmas and why Christmas break is now called “Winter break.” ——— While it is important to note that the play, “A Christmas Carol” does not promote religion, the Christmas title coupled with the play’s awkward timing was viewed as insensitive and raised concerns within the Emerson community. For this reason, Emerson/DaVinci and district administration reached the solution to ask the company that licenses the use of “A Christmas Carol” to allow our students to perform the play under a different name. Their answer was no. ——— Given our desire to be responsive to our diverse community needs we cancelled the play. ——— Understanding the depth and impact of this decision, district administration felt it necessary to dig further and explore alternative options. Board Policy 6141.2 below supports my decision to reinstate the play for the Emerson students. ——— Board Policy 6141.2 Recognition of Religious Beliefs and Customs “While teaching about religious holidays is a permissible part of the educational program, celebrating religious holidays is not allowed in the public schools. School sponsored programs shall not be, nor have the effect of being, religiously oriented or a religious celebration.” “Music, art, literature or drama programs having religious themes are permitted as part of the curriculum for school-sponsored activities and programs if presented in an objective manner and as a traditional part of the cultural and religious heritage. The use of religious symbols that are part of a religious holiday is permitted as a teaching aid or resource provided that such symbols are displayed as an example of cultural and religious heritage of the holiday and are temporary in nature.” ——— The DJUSD Board and administration supports an environment of student expression and cultural sensitivity. Sometimes there are no right answers to the decisions we must make. The cancellation and reinstatement of “A Christmas Carol” was one of those decisions. Nevertheless, we are committed to building a culture of respect and openness in DJUSD. ——— Respectfully, Winfred B. Roberson, Jr. Superintendent

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  • The Worlds Gon CrazyOctober 10, 2012 - 9:48 pm

    Time to send the superintend packing!

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  • Hugh BrennanOctober 12, 2012 - 9:20 pm

    This supercilious moron doesn't even know that precedence and precident are two different words. Probably has a Phd. in education. "Winter Break" what insipid nonsense.

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  • MartinOctober 12, 2012 - 11:00 pm

    "This supercilious moron doesn't even know that precedence and precident are two different words." To begin with, "precident" is not a word. Furthermore, this superintendent is a good man and a fair man, one who had the courage and wisdom to retract a bad decision. In the future, if you are going to correct someone, then I suggest you make sure that your corrections are error free.

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  • KyleOctober 10, 2012 - 6:26 pm

    We live in South Park, and we need Mr Hankie to save us from ourselves.

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  • Michelle MilletOctober 10, 2012 - 7:55 pm

    Do people really have nothing better to be offended by then junior high kids performing A Christmas Carol.

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  • Michelle MilletOctober 11, 2012 - 5:03 pm

    To clarify, I felt the same way (only more so) when people protested a Mosque being built near ground zero. Again, are there not more important things to be offended by?

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  • Tom HanlonOctober 10, 2012 - 8:16 pm

    Due to last-minute careless planning, the organizers scheduled a Christmas play on the first day of Hanukkah. When this came to light, the organizers refused to change the day. I find it hard to believe that there is no suitable venue in Davis on some other day in the month of December. The protest letter was written the day that the scheduling was announced. Rehearsals had not yet begun. How would Christians feel if the school scheduled a Muslim play on Christmas? And what if that was the only opportunity for students interested in theater arts to participate in a real production? In that situation, I think the same folks posting in this forum would be writing protest letters about the District's insensitivity to Christians. Instead they are posting here saying basically "What's the big deal? It's only a Christmas play on Hanukkah." Try to imagine the shoe on the other foot.

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  • Really....October 10, 2012 - 10:58 pm

    And there you have it. I knew there had to be someone out there that actually felt offended. What do I say to this? How about suck it up. Nobody is making you attend the play.

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  • David EverittOctober 11, 2012 - 12:31 am

    "Christmas play on Hanukkah"? You would have a point, except for the fact that this is not a play about Christmas. "what if that was the only opportunity for students interested in theater arts to participate in a real production?" That would be sad. Fortunately, students have many opportunities locally. And yet, they will still find that sometimes they can't participate in a particular performance because of a timing conflict. That's life.

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  • CooperOctober 11, 2012 - 12:59 am

    @Tom: I'm not sure where your received your information, but you have been grossly misinformed. The original show dates were not due to careless last-minute planning. They were originally chosen because the following weekend would exclude many students from participating due to several choir, band, and orchestra concerts. Having the performances the weekend before would require the cast being available to rehearse over Thanksgiving break, which would also exclude students who were unable to make that commitment. While not remotely ideal, the second weekend in December was the best option based on the kids' schedules. It is ectremely unfortunate that those dates also fell during the beginning of Hanukkah. However, when the protest letter came out, the organizers offered several options for new dates even though these would possibly mean less rehearsal time for the cast, fewer performances, and potentially losing cast members. The district representatives initially decided to cancel despite having these options. Also, the protest letter did not come out the day the scheduling was announced. It came out the day the cast list was posted. The dates were scheduled well before that and 3/4 of the students who auditioned learned those dates the week prior when they came to an info meeting about the play. I must also point out that, as a school program, no other venue would be possible on any other date due to insurance and liability reasons. I hope this serves to clear up any misinformation you've been told.

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  • Susan MillerOctober 11, 2012 - 7:27 am

    Cooper's information is correct. Thank you for posting it.

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  • Julie Cole-MarieOctober 11, 2012 - 12:23 pm

    Tom- as a Christian I would simply choose not to attend a Muslim play on Christmas, or I would take my 3 children to view it and continue our discussion of world religions. But the choice would be mine to make. In our effort to become tolerant, it seems we allows everything but Christianity. Tolerance is for all religions.

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  • Gary DarlingOctober 11, 2012 - 4:11 pm

    On Halloween there will be a "Dia de Los Muertos" celebration that is being held by downtown Davis with participation by Chavez elementary. Dia de Los Muertos is a deeply religious holiday - the latin american version of all saints day. The "Dia de Los Muertos" is the day after Halloween, November 1. This is like moving Good Friday to Thursday, or Ash Wednesday to Tuesday and arguing that because the date has changed the holiday is no longer religious. They are going to build an altar, have a procession, some other stuff then the Chavez students will sing. This is much more religious then the Christmas carol play, and the whole religious ceremony is literally being superimposed in the physical middle of the largest non-religious holiday celebration Davis holds. I see the drivers - downtown business see dollars and the school district sees both an educational opportunity and a chance at political correctness. Still, I think the district has some responsibility to be fair and even handed about where it draws it Church/State lines. I had a child in Chavez for seven years, Hanukkah songs were performed in the winter celebration four of the seven years, Kawnazza, three of the seven. No references to Christmas were ever allowed. If DJUSD is going to enforce policy on religious ceremonies it should be applied evenly.

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  • MartinOctober 11, 2012 - 12:39 am

    Dickens did popularize Christmas through his short story, "A Christmas Carol". The the story centers around a family struggling to survive hard times and a rich man who forgets what truly matters in his life. His awakening happens during the holidays and festivities of Christmas. However, the truest form of change in ths story is not the holiday itself, but the rich man's realization via a dream of what really matters to him. His personal accounting of his life leads him to make a change and helps him see himself as part of the solution to the suffering that surrounds him. Dickens was a man deeply affected by hard times as a young man; his novels and short stories are social treaties and treasures that not only defined the ills of Victorian society but also helped to enact laws that brought about real change in those times. To reduce this message to a schedule conflict over holidays is truly sad. This story does not take away from the joy or respect of any religious holiday no matter what day its performance falls on. This story celebrates the very awakenings that many religious celebrations seek to achieve--emphaty and revelation; in that light it should be valued as an asset.

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  • KayOctober 11, 2012 - 3:29 pm

    I have been privy to the facts of this case and I am amazed that the original decision was reached. Not one deciding person read the play itself, the Drama director did in fact follow proper procedure when scheduling the play. I am appalled that this has occurred to coincide with Banned Book Week, SHAME on DJUSD and those that supported removing this play from our children's opportunities. As a person of faith I would never expect any one person or groups of people to change anything to accommodate me and my practices of faith.

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  • B, FraserOctober 13, 2012 - 12:22 am

    Charles Dickens was a reformer. Always championing the under-classes. A Christmas Carol is the story of a one percent (er) growing a conscience and joyfully living out the rest of his days (apologies for giving up the ending). Scrooge goes from being a heartless scourge (Scrooge/scourge Hmmm!) to beloved member of society on Christmas. Oh and by the way Scrooge got rich by making what we would today call “payday loans”. He was a banker! Scrooge’s transformation takes place on Christmas morning. This old man was “reborn” into a kinder, gentler, loving and beloved member of society on Christmas Day. Maybe that is the true message of Christmas for us mere mortals. It is risky business passing these lessons on to our children. A Christmas Carol is considered to be the most read story of all time. There must be a reason. A reason that will never be known in Davis.

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