After a DVJournal report on the district ordering school bus drivers to stop wearing Christmas-themed clothes or displaying Christmas decorations, the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District superintendent declared the story a misunderstanding.
Superintendent Wagner Marseille told the school board at a meeting on Monday that the memo obtained by DVJournal was actually a “significant breakdown in communications.” He said some parents claimed to be upset that a few of the decorations and music on some of the district buses were heavily focused on the religious aspects of Christmas.
In the district’s memo to bus drivers, Supervisor of Transportation Patti Diaferio mentioned the complaints referenced by Marseille.
“If you have decorated your buses with anything specific to the Christmas holiday or any other decorations relating to a specific religion, please remove them immediately. In addition, employees are instructed not to wear clothing related to Christmas or any other religious holiday,” Diaferio wrote.
Also, “District offices and schools buses are to refrain from playing Christmas music or any other music related to a specific religion…It applies to all district employees,” the memo read.
Now, Marseille claims he never intended to ban all Christmas music or decorations, just those with a more “religious” theme. Marseille told the board he sent a second memo the same day as Diaferio’s to clarify his views.
Marseille said he reminded Diaferio that “children of different faiths ride our buses” and “we are a district that prides ourselves on being inclusive.”
“I thought it was important to remind our drivers to be mindful that not every child celebrates Christmas,” said Marseille. “And to remind them that we strive to find balance in the way the holiday is celebrated.”
And, Marseille added, he never intended the restrictions on Christmas he imposed on the drivers to be perceived as a total ban.
“I do not intend in any way for the drivers to feel that they had to turn off their holiday music, take down all their decorations, and not wear any holiday clothing,” Marseille said. “There was a significant breakdown in communication between myself and the transportation supervisor who shared that memo to staff.”
“This matter has become extremely complex, confusing, and polarizing,” said Marseille. “And for that, I do apologize.”
Marseille did not define what he meant by “religious themes.” Neither he nor Diaferio responded to requests for comment from DVJournal.
Board President Kevin Henry said the board members and administrators “worked tirelessly” over the weekend to respond to people who were upset by the issue, and he thanked them for their time.
Marseille said the district follows the principle of separation of church and state “as a safeguard of religious freedom for all Americans” but also recognizes the importance of religion to many Americans.
He also sent a letter to the school community expressing those thoughts.
“I did want to be abundantly clear that we are not trying to remove all signs of Christmas from our school buses or our schools,” Marseille told the board. “In fact, many of our classrooms and hallways are currently filled with holiday decorations.”
Not everyone was satisfied.
“Public school superintendents and principals are paid with taxpayer dollars. These educators should be focused on teaching students, increasing educational abilities, and developing character in future leaders,” said Lower Moreland resident Dr. William Devlin, CEO of the charity Widows and Orphans. “They should not be wasting their time on trashing Christmas decorations on school buses. Ridiculousness gets an A+! Ebenezer Scrooge is a hero to no one.”