The announcement was made by the Elkhorn Public Schools district on Jan. 14 in a statement sent to staff and families.
Jennifer Sinclair sent a detailed memo (pdf) in late 2018 telling teachers at Manchester Elementary School they were forbidden from engaging in a number of Christmastime traditions, such as handing out candy canes.
“Historically, the shape is a ‘J’ for Jesus,” she said, without citing a source.
“The red is for the blood of Christ, and the white is a symbol of his resurrection. This would also include different colored candy canes,” she added.
She also banned Santa or Christmas items on worksheets, Christmas trees in classrooms, singing Christmas carols anywhere in the school, and playing Christmas music at all.
Sinclair also wrote that teachers shouldn’t “assume that the family” of a student celebrates Christmas in her explanation on why all Christmas ornaments were banned.
According to the school district, Sinclar agreed with officials that she shouldn’t return as principal of Manchester.
“Due to the level of attention that Dr. Sinclair’s memo received, Dr. Sinclair and the District stand united that it is in the best interest of Manchester Elementary that she not resume the Principal position,” Dr. Bary Habrock, superintendent of the Elkhorn Public Schools, wrote in the email sent to parents and staff, which was obtained by the Omaha World-Herald.
Habrock said Sinclair stepped down as principal with a “heavy heart and sadness” but noted that she was not fired; she will be moved into a different position with the district.
— KETV NewsWatch 7 (@KETV) January 15, 2019
And Habrock made clear that the district supported Sinclair, despite her unusual policy directive and a huge backlash from parents.
“The District … would like to thank her for the high level of professionalism during this publicly difficult time,” Habrock wrote. “We support Dr. Sinclair as a leader and educator.”
The email was sent out after the Elkhorn Public Schools School Board voted unanimously to accept Sinclair’s resignation, reported KETV. Sinclair had reportedly sent an apology to parents but has not commented publicly since the memo was made public.
The directive was originally made public by the Liberty Counsel group, which advocates internationally for religious freedom. The nonprofit sent a letter to the superintendent of Elkhorn Public Schools asking for a lift of the Christmas ban, saying that it violated school district policy.
The district later said that the memo did not violate district policy but initially said Sinclair had not consulted with any administrators before she issued the ban.
— Omaha World-Herald (@OWHnews) January 15, 2019
“Elkhorn Public Schools District administration promptly addressed the issue at Manchester Elementary School regarding the memo that was sent by the principal to Manchester elementary staff,” a statement from the district said after Liberty Counsel published the memo.
“The memo does not reflect the policy of Elkhorn Public Schools regarding holiday symbols in the school. The District has since clarified expectations and provided further direction to staff in alignment with District policy. This issue was limited to Manchester Elementary School and did not arise at any other schools within the District.”
Liberty Counsel said it was pleased with the memo being reversed and said Sinclair should apologize.
“The First Amendment does not require elimination of Christmas. Nothing prohibits public schools from teaching objectively about Christmas or other holidays with religious significance, from displaying religious and secular Christmas symbols side-by-side or singing sacred and secular Christmas songs together,” said Mat Staver, founder of the group.
“The First Amendment prohibits censorship based on religious viewpoint. This outrageous three-page memo by Principal Sinclair was not based on ignorance of the law but hatred toward Christianity and Christmas. Principal Sinclair should issue an apology to her teachers and staff.”