Oak Lawn Schools Cancel Holiday Traditions
School District to discuss cancellation or renaming of holiday celebrations at emergency meeting
October 2, 2007, 8:34 AM
Suzanne Le Mignot
(CBS) OAK LAWN, Ill. A southwest suburban school district has taken action, responding to the concerns of a Muslim parent.

But now, as CBS 2's Suzanne Le Mignot reports, other parents are angry that traditional school holidays will be renamed or even eliminated.

"That does not represent all the Muslims, all of the Arabs at that school," said Qais Nofel, the father of a student in Ridgeland School District 122.

There was some heated discussion between parents outside Columbus Manor Elementary School in Oak Lawn on Friday. The thought of no more traditional holiday celebrations has many parents really upset.

For now, children in Ridgeland School District 122 will celebrate fall festival instead of Halloween and winter festival instead of Christmas.

Brenda Elvidge said, "It's not fair to our kids. This is America and that's an American tradition."

The decision affects the children at four elementary schools in Oak Lawn and one junior high school in Bridgeview.

The district has a 30 percent Arab-American population, many of whom practice Islam. The superintendent says the reason for the change in tradition comes after one parent wanted Ramadan decorations put up inside Columbus Manor Elementary. They were taken down.

Superintendent Tom Smyth said, "I go back to our policy which says that public schools are to remain neutral in this respect."

Ridgeland School District 122 has called for an emergency meeting on the issue, to be held on Tuesday.

Meantime, Muslim children are being allowed to pray during what's being called their own time, that's lunch time, during Ramadan.

Parent June Quigley said, "They get to pray in our schools. That is religion in a public school."

Muslim parents have different views on the issue.

Sala Abour said, "To take away Halloween and Christmas from little kids, that is very wrong."

Nofel said, "We go and we celebrate the holidays and traditions here, but we do have the right to be Muslims as well."

Other parents say the controversy is overshadowing what really needs to be addressed at all five schools in the district.

Ronnie Carroll said, "The fact that they are cash strapped. Our classroom size is way above the average mean, 38 children in our first grade classroom. The concern should be our school, not the whole holiday issues."

Those issues along with the holiday controversy are going to be addressed at a school board meeting on Tuesday. Members will decide if holidays will be celebrated or not.

Meantime, the Illinois PTA district director says the state is now investigating this issue and there's a meeting with the superintendent next week.

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