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District stresses sensitivity

December 08, 2000

Danette Goulet

NEWPORT BEACH - While there is no policy in place to handle situations

such as the stringing of holiday lights on school grounds, district

officials said Thursday that parents need to be sensitive and check with

principals before working on a school site.

"The principal is ultimately responsible for what goes on, and before

any parent comes to do anything, I felt they should have consulted the

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principal," said school board member Serene Stokes.

Parents at Mariners Elementary School were told to take down strings

of colored and white lights they had put up at the school after a

community member complained to school board president Dana Black on

Saturday.

"We need this good communication between community and parents,"

Stokes added. "I think they really should have consulted the principal

first -- that's where I think it was inappropriate."

Parents took the lights down at Black's request but felt the district

had made the wrong decision, saying the lights were festive and not

religious.

"We thought it was a season type of thing," said Lisa Boler, a

Mariners parent and president of the Harbor Council PTA. "To me, lights

symbolize winter and not Christmas. But you have to be careful, you don't

want to offend anyone."

That has been the school board's goal in all holiday festivities, said

trustee Martha Fluor, adding that there have been many similar issues

over the years.

"As a school board, our holiday programs encompass all celebrations --

from Kwanzaa to Hanukkah to Christmas," Fluor said. "All our winter

programs need to be sensitive to many diverse cultures. Traditionally,

the lights tend to be a Christian symbol. Whether that's good or bad,

true or false, that's the perception out there."

Black's request to remove the lights has some parents cheering, but

even more exasperated.

"I think it's ridiculous," said Heather Hovis, a Mariners parent. "I

have three kids at Mariners, and they've been singing Hanukkah and

dreidel songs for years now, and I took no offense."

Hovis said she didn't care if the lights were displayed but was

offended that parents were told they couldn't have them up.

Supt. Robert Barbot said the district would not tell schools if they

could hang lights or not, but he added that he would reiterate to the

principals the need to be sensitive to the community.

"I don't believe this is the kind of issue you can address and fix at

a district level," he said. "We'll probably review with our employees the

need to respect the differences in the community and find ways to work

together to resolve conflicts."

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