“Semester break” on the school calendar narrowly avoided a renaming to “Christmas and New Year holiday” Monday night with a 6-6 deadlock by the Williamson County Board of Education.

“Semester break” on the school calendar narrowly avoided being renamed “Christmas and New Year holiday” Monday night with a 6-6 deadlock by the Williamson County Board of Education.

The motion failed with board members Ken Peterson, P.J. Mezera, Gary Anderson, Jay Galbreath, Bobby Hullett and Rick Wimberly opposed. Board members Dan Cash, Paul Bartholomew, Candace Emerson, Beth Burgos, Mark Gregory and Susan Curlee supported the measure.

Emerson put the amendment on the floor, at which point the board picked up the discussion where it left off at last Thursday’s work session. History and neutrality, respectively, were at the core of the arguments for and against the proposed change.

Peterson and Hullett asked for explanations of how all students would benefit from the proposed change as they argued that the change favored personal agendas, rather than the district’s entire student body.

Burgos said the debate was not one of religion; because federal calendars recognize Christmas, so should the school calendar.

“Our nation has been swept by a wave of political correctness,” Burgos said. “This is about preserving history. There are 10 days out of the year people don’t go to work. The reason for those closings is to celebrate the holiday. It’s an American tradition with many secular symbols.

“Students have a right to learn about the heritage of their country. If the word ‘Christmas’ is treated as taboo, that sends a message.”

Anderson, a 24-year board member, said he served a previous board that voted to give the former “Christmas break” on the school calendar a neutral name.

“At the time, rather than make WCS a battleground, we decided to be proactive to not distract from the education of our kids,” Anderson said. “Making this change is a distraction.”

Hullett said since last Thursday’s work session, he has counted 14 emails sent to the board in support of “Christmas break” and 124 against.

Legal repercussions were another fear cited by board members opposed to the calendar alteration. Hullett has repeated since the subject was introduced that the district would have to contend with lawsuits from parents had the change been approved.

“We’ve been advised against this by our legal staff,” Hullett said. “Because we’re so strapped from a resource standpoint, why would we put that at risk?”

Galbreath expressed that he has spoken with and understood individuals on both sides of the issue. He later commented on what ultimately swayed him.

“I don’t feel it does much for children,” Galbreath said. “But I think it’s sad that we can’t call things by name.”

Other calendar changes

The board approved 10-2 an amendment to insert all state and federal holidays into the calendar, rather than listing them at the bottom of the calendar. These holidays include both those on which school is closed and not closed.

“The students will be discussing these holidays in school, and it’s a convenience for parents to be able to see them on the calendar as a reminder when banks and other businesses are closed,” said Curlee, who proposed the amendment.

Currently, the calendar identifies holidays, including Christmas Day, that are paid per Board Policy 5.310.

Peterson and Anderson opposed the change, but the amendment received support from all other board members.

On Burgos’ suggestion, the board also restored “fall break” and “spring break,” which are listed on the calendar currently as “first semester break” and “second semester break.” The 11-1 vote was opposed solely by Wimberly.

A third amendment was approved by a 9-3 vote to rename “semester break” to “winter break” with Cash, Wimberly and Burgos opposed. Hullett proposed this change in keeping consistent with the renaming of fall and spring break.

The board unanimously approved the final, amended calendar for the 2015-2016 school year.

Citizens weigh in

Prior to the board’s vote, several members of the public voiced support and opposition to restoring “Christmas” to winter break.

Local parent Julie West asked the board why the issue over Christmas in the school calendar was considered controversial.

“What controversy?” she asked. “Neither the U.S. Supreme Court or the State House find it controversial. Both indicated where nativities can be placed on public property and where ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Happy Hanukkah’ are protected speech.

“How long should district officials wait to acknowledge a universally accepted fact? Dec. 25 is Christmas.”

Another citizen, Christy Coleman, said her family celebrates the winter solstice, or Yule, on Dec. 21 and asked the board to vote down the Christmas amendment so as not to exclude and promote bullying of religious minority students like her own 5-year-old son.

“Keeping it neutral encompasses Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s, and it does encompass my holiday on the 21st,” Coleman said.

“I don’t want to take away Christmas from anyone; I just ask you not to push yours on my family in a public school setting. I think you take away the idea of peace. Does having the words ‘Christmas break’ on the school calendar affect how you will worship? If you don’t put my holiday on there, it won’t make a dime’s worth of difference.”

Asked later if she would have taken action had the board majority favored changing the calendar to say “Christmas break,” Coleman said no.

“That’s ridiculous,” Coleman said. “No way would I sue, because that would hurt the schools as well. I would have just been disappointed.”

Jessica Pace covers Williamson County, Williamson County Schools and the Town of Nolensville for Home Page Media Group. Contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @Jess_NHP.