Songs silenced on school buses in Gurnee, Ill. (courtesy Santa.com)
Is Christmas music the target of a school district in Illinois?
Some parents believe it is, and they went to bat last night looking to overturn a new ban silencing music from the radios of school buses.
Sandy Hartogh says she found out about the no-music policy when her children rode the bus home last Friday, and she and her husband retained a lawyer to challenge the edict.
The attorney, Andy Norman, sent a letter to officials of the school district stating:
Your order that no Christmas carols may be played under these circumstances constitutes an illegal suppression of the rights of our clients’ children under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. It also reflects illegal hostility directed against Christianity. Respectfully, demand is made that you immediately rescind this order and allow Christmas carols to be played in the buses along with other music.
But Dr. Dennis Conti, superintendent of Woodland School District 50 is painting a different picture, telling WorldNetDaily the ban had nothing to do with religious music, but rather the safety of the children riding the bus.
“I could care less if it’s Christian, country or classical music. Playing radios on the bus will distract drivers from hearing students, and students from hearing instructions from the driver,” he said. “It’s absolutely ludicrous to think we’re preventing Christmas music on the bus. It’s totally safety – absolutely nothing else.”
Located in Lake County, Ill., north of Chicago, the Woodland district serves 7,125 children in grades K-8 in seven schools.
Conti explains this is the first year that radios have been installed in all of the district’s buses, and the main reason for the radios was to have a public-address system.
“This [no-music] policy could have happened at any time of year,” he said.
“I say they’re backpedaling,” responds Hartogh. “I have proof the school board based its decision on religious issues.”
Hartogh says she was told by a “reliable source” the administration referred the board to its policy on religious and holiday displays when it instituted the music ban.
The policy is a generic statement which neither endorses nor precludes the presence of religious materials, stating in part:
The religious content of the school district’s curriculum shall give neither preferential nor derogatory treatment to any single religious belief or to religion in general. Rather, the study of religion shall be treated as an academic subject with no emphasis on the advancement or practice of religion.
“If this is a safety issue, why did they refer to that policy?” asks Hartogh, who ran unsuccessfully for the school board last year, and is considering another bid next year. “If the board members stand behind this lie, they are letting the administration dictate to them what to do.”
During last night’s heated school board meeting, members went behind closed doors for some 15 minutes in “executive session” to discuss the issue. In the end, the decision was made to allow the music back on the buses at the discretion of each driver.
While Hartogh is excited by the change of heart, she tells WND there’s an even greater victory:
“The Board of Woodland Schools now recognizes and is actively addressing the issues of religious equality in all its meaning, including symbolism and expression. They now celebrate Jewish holidays, Indian, black, Muslim, and many, many other religions and ethnic faiths and organizations as they should.
“However, they also conceded that Christianity has been shelved in fear of lawsuits or special groups that might complain. They admit Dr. Conti allowed the complaint of one parent and their child to influence the decision of 7,000 students and it was wrong to do so.”
The public celebration of Christmas has come under fire in America in recent years, from bans on the mention of the word Christmas in schools and parades, to bans on “religious” Christmas cards and carols in classrooms.
As WorldNetDaily reports today, a high school principal canceled a dramatic performance of Charles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol,” partly because he feared it would raise questions about the place of religion in public schools.