Local News

Friday, Dec 22 2006 01:09 AM

Easter, Christmas break it is

BY LISA SCHENCKER, Californian staff writere-mail: lschencker@bakersfield.com

Kern High School District students will no longer have winter and spring breaks; they'll have Christmas and Easter breaks.

District trustees voted 4-1 Thursday morning to change the names of the breaks to Christmas and Easter breaks. Trustees Ken Mettler, Chad Vegas, Bryan Batey and Joel Heinrichs voted in favor of the name change. Board President Bob Hampton voted against it.

Mettler and Vegas said they voted for the name change to uphold American tradition.

"Christmas is a federal holiday," Mettler said. "It can certainly be recognized at the Kern High School District level."

Batey said he voted in favor of the change for many reasons including because he believes it has wide community support.

Heinrichs said he was torn on the issue and hesitated before voting. He said he ultimately voted in favor of the change so the community could move on to other educational issues.

"It is a reasonable accommodation of tradition and less distracting for students in the long term," Heinrichs said after the vote.

Hampton was the lone board member to vote against the change.

"The spiritual side of students belongs at home and in church," Hampton said shortly before the vote.

The vote followed discussion from trustees and heated comments from more than a dozen community members. Most, including Christians, Jews and people of other faiths, spoke out against the name change.

"There are so many other religious and ethnic groups in Kern County," said Stockdale parent Devinder Singh Bains. "Other religions are just as important."

Temple Beth El Rabbi Cheryl Rosenstein was one of several local Jewish community leaders who spoke. She also submitted a letter to board members before the meeting signed by her and more than 10 other local religious leaders, including the leaders of several Methodist churches, Congregation B'Nai Jacob and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Kern County, among others.

"What is truly 'American' and 'traditional' is the fact that our citizens -- and students -- come from everywhere, and celebrate many different things," the letter said. "Please leave spiritual matters to us in our homes and houses of worship, where they properly belong."

Terri Stanton, the district's former director of instruction, said she felt compelled to speak against the change. She angrily left the board room immediately after the vote.

"I am completely appalled this board would be this cowardly and this narrow-minded," Stanton said. "This was absolutely exclusive and divisive."

Several people who identified themselves as Christians also expressed their disappointment.

"It appalls me to think this group would be so insensitive to the feelings of other religions," said community member Jerry Ludeke.

Only a few audience members stood to speak in favor of the name change, including City Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan.

"Let's educate our children and let them know this two-week break is because of Christmas," Sullivan said.

She pointed out that Christmas is only a few days away. One audience member whispered quietly that it was already Hanukkah.

Community member Terri Rocha also spoke in favor of the name change.

"I'm for Christmas," Rocha said. "It's a time for everybody. I think the more we chip away and chip away, we're left with fractions and divisions."

After the speakers took their turns, board members had their say.

"I just disagree that Christmas and Easter are irrelevant traditions," Vegas said. He also responded to one audience member's claim that some board members were only in favor of the name change in order to win future votes.

Vegas said it's not fair for others to jump to conclusions about his motives.

"I could jump to the motive that some of you have atheist or secular agendas and are trying to suppress me as a Christian," Vegas said before Hampton called the meeting back to order.

Heinrichs declined to comment during the public discussion several times, and then commented shortly before the vote after saying he wished there was more discussion.

"I'm really very conflicted on this vote," Heinrichs said before pausing for several seconds, voting yes and then falling back into his chair. His vote was met with groans from the audience.

Batey also tried to defer comment but ultimately asked Mettler to clarify how the change would affect the district. Mettler said the district will not destroy or reprint any of its current calendars for the change. He also said students, teachers and principals are still free to call the breaks winter and spring breaks if they so choose.

Batey wrote in a statement that he supported the change for those reasons as well as "wide community support."

He also wrote that his support of the item, which Vegas brought to the attention of the board, "sends a loud and clear message that (Vegas) is part of a five-member board and that he is invited to join the rest of us in improving schools, raising test scores, expanding career education and updating boundaries."

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