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Madison County School Board OKs changing 'winter break' to 'Christmas break'

Despite numerous resident objections, the Madison County School Board has approved changing “winter break” to “Christmas break” in the 2024-25 school calendar.

In March, Madison County resident Mike Sharman made a comment suggesting the change of “winter break” to “Christmas break.” The board then suggested making that change in the 2024-25 draft school calendar.

“Christmas is a cultural thing in our community,” board member Christopher Wingate said. “I support the idea.”

Sharman also suggested changing “spring break” to “Easter break.” However, Easter in 2025 is late, not until April 20, nearly three weeks after spring break. Instead, board members suggested adding Good Friday, April 18, as a holiday. However, superintendent Anna Graham said adding another holiday could cause an issue with the calendar as school divisions are required to be in school a certain number of days or hours. The draft calendar without Good Friday as a holiday includes 178 days of instruction. Several snow days are also built in.

Wingate and board members Nita Collier, Greg Martz and Charlie Sheads supported the idea of changing “winter break” to “Christmas break” and asked that it be included in the draft calendar.

As in previous years, the draft calendar was then posted to the school division’s website for public comment. Though the comments were only briefly mentioned during last week’s school board meeting and not available to the public prior to the meeting or attached to the agenda, 157 people responded. Of those, 58 opposed the change of “winter break” to “Christmas break.” Thirty-seven supported it. One said they could go for either option and several asked for a break during March. The addition of the Good Friday holiday was also noted by some as favorable.

During the meeting, Sharman again reiterated his support for the changes. He noted that the country is “one nation under God” and said Christmas actually is celebrated much longer than one day, with stores putting out holiday items in the fall and Hallmark being the number one channel in November and December due to its slate of Christmas movies.

Pastor Russell Biber agreed, stating Christian holidays represent a majority of the people and while he doesn’t disagree with someone’s right to celebrate as they wish, he doesn’t want to create a Godless society.

Parent Devlyn D’Alfonzo disagreed. She said she’s not anti-religion, but is anti-state enforced religion and winter break includes all residents, while Christmas break leaves out the many other religious holidays that occur in winter.

“I suspect it would be offensive to you to celebrate Kwanzaa break as you don’t celebrate that holiday,” she said.

D’Alfonzo said public, federally funded school divisions cannot endorse one religion over another and both legal precedent and basic human decency don’t support the change.

“Put your person theology aside and focus on the diverse range of students who rely on you,” she said.

Christina Barden agreed. She said the board is there for the educational needs of the students and that not all students celebrate Christmas.

“All deserve to feel included by their public school board,” she said.

Carol Shirley said while Christmas is the major holiday over the break, renaming it leaves the ones who don’t celebrate it out even more. She said changing the name isn’t going to help children with their schoolwork or to want to come to school. Instead, she said, it would make them feel even more isolated.

Wingate said the change isn’t one based on personal beliefs, but rather state law. He said the state recognizes 12 legal holidays and if people don’t like it, they should delete Christmas and Thanksgiving from that list. He said by not calling it Christmas break, it would be discriminating against those who celebrate it and said it sends a message by not calling it Christmas break.

Martz said Prince William County, one of the most diverse school divisions in the state if not in the country, has numerous religious holidays on its calendar including Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

“It’s not uncommon practice,” he said. “The works of the calendar reflect the makeup of the community.”

Board member Sue Wood, as the only new member of the board, asked why the calendar was approved last year as winter break, but now is being changed. She said she wants children to belong and to want to be at school, feeling included. She said two-thirds of the survey respondents said they wanted to keep it as “winter break,” which is the majority.

“Last year, it was ok,” she said. “What changed?”

Wingate said board members learn what they would like to change over time and reiterated the message that is sent by not calling it Christmas break, stating its discriminating against Christians.

Wood said state employees get off work for the one day of Christmas while winter break is two weeks which includes Kwanzaa, sometimes Hanukkah and occasionally Ramadan. She said winter break has had the same name for approximately 20 years. Wingate argued that it was called Christmas break for hundreds of years prior.

Student representative Jenna Cropp, who said she was speaking on behalf of students, said while she celebrates Christmas, many of her peers and friends don’t believe what she does.

“I’ve been in the minority,” she said. “I don’t want others to feel that way.”

Cropp said holiday items being in stores in the fall has little to do with Christianity and everything to do with consumerism and stores making money. She said so many cultures don’t get recognition and they should. She said there’s so many other holidays over winter break and its not fair to recognize one. She said faith in God is a personal thing and public school is for the public, not one person. She took issue with Wingate’s claim the proposed change was not by personal preference and said it was. She said the change is not fair to those who don’t believe in God and it’s an unnecessary change.

Wingate introduced a policy change that he said would eliminate issues in the future related to the calendar. The policy would include all 12 holidays as defined by the Code of Virginia. While not all 12 would be off days for students and staff, they would all be stated on the calendar. That policy will likely be voted on next month.

Meanwhile, Sheads said the country was based on Christianity. He said people have to get beyond being offended.

“We’re considering a cultural traditional holiday thats been around for 100s of years,” he said. “I don’t see whats so offensive about that.”

The calendar was approved 5-0.

Wood said later that while she was opposed to the changing of the break name, voting against the calendar would have been voting against the hard work of the calendar committee. She said the calendar was otherwise a good one.

Other than the name change, the approved 2024-25 calendar has the first day of school for students as Aug. 13 with the last day being a half-day May 23. That day is the only half-day in the calendar. Thanksgiving break is scheduled for Nov. 27-29 and Christmas break is Dec. 23—Jan. 3 for students. Spring break is April 7-11 with Good Friday, April 18, as a holiday.


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