About two dozen parents in San Jose pulled their kindergarteners out of school Friday and walked them to a local coffee shop to see Santa after officials canceled an annual field trip to deliver letters to St. Nick.
The parents yanked 20 to 30 children out of Sartorette Elementary School, furious the principal had nixed a decade-old tradition: leaving school to sip hot chocolate and sit on Santa’s lap.
It comes after a Jewish mother, who asked to be identified only as Talia, raised concerns about what she called "best practices," arguing that public school should respect and focus on all religions during the holiday season.
Parent Vanessa Howe defended the field trip and led the "walkout" to Big E Cafe. How argued that parents who don't want their children to see Santa should keep them at home until after the field trip is over.
"(They) should just not go for that one hour," Howe argued.
She also asked rhetorically if it would be appropriate for her child to make a fuss on the day students learned about Hanukkah in class.
But Talia saw it differently. She said learning about another person's religion is one thing, but having a child sit on Santa's lap, when it is not her custom, is another. Talia said she would never dream of having a non-Jewish child say the blessings over a menorah, which she equated to participating in Christmas activities.
"They need to redesign the curriculum so that children don't have to opt out," she explained.
In November, Talia began telling the school she didn’t want her daughter to spend two days writing letters to Santa, dressing up as a reindeer and capping the week with a trip sit on St. Nick’s lap.
Christmas brings up painful memories for Talia, whose grandparents were beaten in Poland because of their religious beliefs. In addition, Talia, a certified teacher, said public schools that teach about one religion should teach about all religions in order to be inclusive.
Talia compromised with the superintendent, agreeing that the field trip to the cafe would still happen but without Santa there. Cafe owner Ernesto May, however, said in an interview this week he couldn't disinvite Santa because the event was open to the community. Last year, 160 children showed up.
The principal canceled the event altogether. Cambrian School District Supt. Carrie Andrews acknowledged there was a breakdown in communication and vowed to work with parents to find a better solution for next year.
Talia has now been the target of verbal attacks by a group of parents, one of whom accused her of "waging a war on Christmas," she recalled.
And while some parents were livid, others had a change of heart about the tradition after seeing a different point of view.
Elizabeth Snowden, who is Christian, said she never realized the Santa tradition might cause people of other faiths to feel left out. Snowden said she actually felt jealous of the multicultural party held Thursday in Talia's daughter's class — after Talia suggested a more inclusive holiday party for the kids — where parents of eight cultures described their customs.
And Bao Nguyen, who also celebrates Christmas, said Talia was "brave to stand up" for what she felt was right.
"I’m not mad about the field trip being canceled because there was a very good intent behind this," she said. "Just because we’ve doing this for 10 years, doesn’t make it right."