BANGOR, Maine — A long-time math teacher at Bangor High School said on her Facebook page that she was ordered by the principal on Friday to remove a small Christmas tree from her classroom.
Catherine Gordon said in a post timestamped Dec. 18 at 9:17 p.m. that the “tree had no religious symbols on it whatsoever. No crosses or angels, just pink Hello Kitties and my students really enjoyed it and it cheered me up during the day.”
Gordon said in the post that she has been decorating her classroom for the holidays for 30 years.
Bangor School Superintendent Betsy Webb issued the following statement Monday in response to media requests for an explanation of why Gordon was told to remove the tree from her classroom:
“In alignment with national and state standards, the Bangor School Department educates students about culture, traditions and holidays through curriculum ties in English language arts, music, art, social studies and world languages,” Webb said. “Our focus is educating students to become global citizens with the necessary 21st century skills for college and career readiness for their future success.
“Maintaining consistency with this approach has not been an issue for the Bangor School Department, as faculty and staff are committed to what is in the best interest of students and working towards our mission of academic excellence for all,” Webb said.
The teacher’s Facebook post had been shared 200 times by 11:30 a.m. Monday, garnered nearly 100 comments and captured the attention of Channel 7 and FOX 22.
In her post, Gordon commented on how the school department’s attitude toward observing Christmas has changed.
“When I first started teaching, we had parties the last day of school before vacation and the kids would bring in cookies and we played holiday music — none of that is allowed now,” she said. “I feel that this is definitely a turning point in our society — when everything offends everyone all the time — it just sucks the joy out of everything.”
Attempts on Monday to learn from BHS Principal Paul Butler on what policy the decision was based were unsuccessful.
Zachary Heiden with the Maine Civil Liberties Union of Maine declined to comment on Gordon’s situation.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee has posted on its website a guide for administrators and teachers titled “Know Your Rights: Religion in Public Schools.” It includes a section on holiday celebrations.
“The United States Supreme Court has determined that schools may celebrate the holidays and create displays as long as they so do within ‘the context of the Christmas season’ and the religious component of their display does not dominate but simply represents one element of a holiday that has obtained secular status in our society,” it states. “Under [a 1984 U.S. Supreme Court] ruling, a Christmas tree would be appropriate, while a cross or a nativity scene would not. Crosses and nativity scenes are purely religious symbols that have not gained secular status in our society and therefore may not be displayed in public schools.”
Watch bangordailynews.com for updates.