Across several Oregon public school districts, Santa Claus will have a frosty reception this holiday. In particular, the Hillsboro School District, a western Portland-area public school system, requested that staff omit Santa Claus from the season's decorations in a memo released Tuesday.
The meat of a note to the Glencoe High School office staff read, according to Oregon's KATU: "You may still decorate your door or office if you like, but we ask that you be respectful and sensitive to the diverse perspectives and beliefs of our community and refrain from using religious-themed decorations or images like Santa Claus." The news station also reported that a few other Portland public school districts abide by similar protocols for holiday ornaments.
Hillsboro parents and community members expressed a mix of reactions to the old saint nixed. "If you're going to put a giant cross on the window that's one thing, but I think Santa Claus is more folklore and American history than a religious symbol at this point," said Jason Ramirez, to KATU. A mother of students, who did not give her name, said her children should be able to observe their belief in Santa, WCMH reported.
Others lamented the end of Santa's reign. "Proof that America has officially died," declared the provocative radio host and former GOP congressman Joe Walsh on Twitter.
And a few celebrated. "Some people like to argue he's barely a religious symbol anymore, which I'd agree with. He's a symbol of capitalism, a sort of manifestation of our greatest moral value: wealth," wrote the Oregonian's Lizzy Acker. "It's about time" that Santa's brand of materialism vanished from public school systems, she said.
But when a few media outlets interpreted the memo as a "ban on Santa Claus," the school walked away from full-blown Santa denunciations.
"We were NOT banning Santa, nor were we going to be the 'decorations police' and scold people if they happened to have decorations up that might be too Christmas-y," Hillsboro School District spokeswoman Beth Graser said to KGW Portland, "unless they were totally over the top." The memo was meant to curb overdoses of holiday cheer, the district said, not necessarily just Santa; a winter door-decoration contest had "gotten excessive" in the past, Graser said.
The Hillsboro district was unable to respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post early Thursday. But the school system further argued that the memo was not a ban in a Wednesday news release. Instead, it was an effort to accommodate all of its students, as the district said in a statement titled "Hillsboro School District Not Banning Santa":
"We have no policies or directives around this issue, we merely want to remind staff that we need to create inclusive and welcoming spaces for all of our students and realize that many of our students-because of their religion, culture, or other beliefs-do not feel comfortable (and in many cases may not be allowed by their parents) participating in activities that are holiday-based or religious in nature, or being surrounded by imagery that is a direct affront to them."
The dispute over public Santas, reindeer and crèches is not a new phenomenon. In 1984, the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 in Lynch v. Donnelly that the city of Pawtucket, R.I., had not violated the Constitution by displaying a nativity scene accompanied by "secular" decorations like a Santa Claus house, reindeer, a Christmas tree and an elephant.