Happy holidays? Florida school district walks back decision to nix Hanukkah presentation
Hanukkah Jewish holiday background with menorah (Judaism candelabra) burning candles and traditional Dreidrel game toy on wood table and on autumn bokeh sun flare

Hanukkah Jewish holiday background with menorah (Judaism candela
A spokesperson for the district said officials a ‘trying to be careful’ in light of the new Parents’ Bill of Rights.

Pasco County Schools says it has reversed its decision denying a mother’s request to give a Hanukkah presentation to her son’s fifth grade class after reporters contacted the district for an explanation. And the initial decision blocking the presentation cited Florida’s relatively new Parents’ Bill of Rights law.

A district spokesperson now says the mother would have to first meet with school staff to set up guidelines, but that the presentation has been otherwise approved.

Rachel Long has visited each of her children’s classes yearly to explain Hanukkah — the Jewish “Festival of Lights” that takes place around the same time as Christmas and similarly involves gift giving — since her eldest son was in preschool. He’s now in 10th grade.

Her short presentation includes no mention of God or religion, Long said. Instead, it consists of her reading from a book explaining Hanukkah (also written as “Chanukah”), sharing traditional food, displaying a menorah, and giving toy tops (dreidels) to each child for an in-class game.

Not counting the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, the schools Long’s children attended welcomed her into the classroom every year without issue. That was until last week when she reached out to her youngest child’s fifth-grade teacher at his elementary school in New Port Richey to ask when she could come in this year.

Initially, the teacher seemed open to the idea. She told Long she would confer with school higher-ups “to determine what day and time would be best.”

A few days later, however, the teacher said that after speaking with school staff and district administrators, they recommended she deny Long’s request, citing the Parents’ Bill of Rights.

“As per discussions with the team and Admin, the new Parent Bill of Rights (sic) obligates us to follow the 5th Grade Standards as written,” the teacher said by text. “At this time, a Chanukah presentation is not in our standards.”

Long asked: “Then, I assume, no Christmas activities will be done?”

The teacher did not immediately reply.

Screenshots of the text exchange between parent Rachel Long and her son’s fifth grade teacher. Image via Rachel Long.

The Parents’ Bill of Rights, which Gov. Ron DeSantis signed on June 30, 2021, provides that parents can object to — and opt their child out of — instructional materials based on their beliefs about morality, sex and religion.

The only mention of holidays and cultural traditions in the Pasco School curriculum guide for fifth grade says students will read stories from “different cultures” and encourages parents to discuss the meaning of various holidays with their children.

CPALMS, the Florida Department of Education’s official source for education standards, includes approved lessons on holidays in world language, history and civics classes and hundreds of allowances for multicultural education.

Long contacted the school’s principal and got a similar answer. The principal, she said, claimed to have spoken with an Assistant Superintendent from the district. The Assistant Superintendent assigned to the school is Kimberly Poe, according to Pasco Schools Director of Employee Relations Kathy Scalise.

Long said the principal told her: “Due to the Parent Bill of Rights (sic), the school could not celebrate any holidays.”

Apparently, that doesn’t apply to Christmas, Long contended, noting Christmas-themed décor throughout a “holiday shop” in the school and a host of related activities.

“(The) kids are watching the musical ‘Elf Jr.’ during school, the school is completely decorated for Christmas, and there is a ‘Santa night’ planned,” Long told Florida Politics.

“(The principal) explained these things by saying they are holiday-themed, not Christmas, and parents are able to opt their students out. Teachers are allowed to have Christmas trees in their rooms but are not allowed to do Elf on The Shelf. If students can participate in all these activities or be opted out, I suggested that students could be opted out of my Chanukah presentation.”

The elementary school’s “holiday shop” has no shortage of Christmas-themed decorations. Image via Rachel Long.

Long stressed that she isn’t trying to push her religion on anyone.

“I am just trying to expose my child’s classmates to different traditions,” she said. Long said the principal agreed to raise the issue again with Poe before rendering a final decision Thursday but suggested that if the school allowed a presentation on Hanukkah, “they would have to teach Kwanza and Diwali.”

“I think that would be awesome,” Long said. “I told her that if it is me coming in that is an issue; I would be happy to send the materials in for the teacher to use. I explained to her that if I am not able to do my presentation or that the teacher doesn’t do it, I will raise hell if I see one Christmas paper come home or I see one Christmas tree in the school.”

Florida Politics contacted principal Poe and Pasco Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning. Neither responded by press time.

But the issue appeared to have been resolved by Wednesday afternoon. Pasco Schools Public Information Officer Stephen Hegarty told Florida Politics that Long could indeed do her Hanukkah presentation once she meets with the teacher and other relevant faculty.

Hegarty confirmed a local TV reporter had also learned of the issue and was seeking answers. He said the district was being cautious when it expressed reticence at Long’s request.

“The Parents’ Bill of Rights is new, and even though it does not affect a lot of things, it affects some things, and everybody wants to make sure they’re doing the right thing,” he said. “They’re trying to be careful.”

He added, “My understanding is the teacher sought clarification from her principal, her principal sought clarification, and that’s where we are right now, which is that she’s going to work through it, make sure it’s all done appropriately, and I expect she’s going to go into the classroom and make a fine presentation. My understanding is she’s done a great job in the past.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


26 comments

  • Leza berardone

    November 30, 2022 at 8:48 pm

    Ron the Nazi says you can only celebrate Christmas

    • That too

      December 1, 2022 at 3:26 pm

      Christmas is also a pagan holiday. You think Jesus would share his birthday with a guy coming down chimneys Christian’s?
      So That’s out too.

      Ron’s taken more holidays away then he says liberals have lol

  • OldWays Lawyer

    November 30, 2022 at 9:21 pm

    It’s going to be a rude awakening when Christi-fascists realize they are a minority, and that laws like Parents’ Bill of Rights, set up to protect their dominant culture monopoly, can be used to sue them into oblivion.

  • Marti

    November 30, 2022 at 9:37 pm

    Thanks to Rachel Long for assuring Hannukah is included in our children’s winter celebrations.

  • Barry

    November 30, 2022 at 9:56 pm

    Clearly she also needs to do a presentation to Floroda Politics. Meanwhile, Commandant DeathSantis has made Florida into a Fascist state and his idea of freedom is whatever he believes in which is not freedom…its a dictatorship…and he has these schools so petrified of going against his doctrine, they have no idea what to teach. The kids are the ones who will suffer when they are only taught what he finds acceptable.

    • Barry

      November 30, 2022 at 9:59 pm

      Please excuse the typo of Floroda Politics. Clearly, I know it’s spelled Florida.

  • Charlotte Greenbarg

    December 1, 2022 at 7:28 am

    Um, the bill doesn’t stop anyone from presenting materials about holidays. The school got it wrong this year. Far left haters spew lies as usual

    • MC

      December 1, 2022 at 9:05 am

      The whole point of the law is to have a chilling effect on speech that offends white patriarchal Christians. You’re in denial about this because you’re feeling cognitive dissonance about believing you’re a good person while supporting a Christofascist movement. That gnawing feeling in your conscience won’t go away until you reject bigotry in all its forms.

      • GDSmith

        December 1, 2022 at 1:28 pm

        ^^^ This is the correct answer.

      • nail

        December 3, 2022 at 12:15 am

        Please, she is a bigot, an anti semitic and a Christi-fascists. Just say it. She has never read the bill because the bill says no outside materials can be brought from outside, Nothing, forbidden.
        When Desantis funded 29 Proud Boys and QAnon Mom’s for Liberty for the school boards, every parent should have been knocking on his door. When he banned over 566 classic and books that deal mostly with race and racism, the parents should have had Desantis admitted for child abuse. I cannot believe the audacity of Desantis exerting his authoritarianism on children. If he wants to follow Victor Orban and every detail of Orbans laws he needs to move with the Handmaiden and their dumbed down kids to Hungary. He can roll in his authoritarianship there.
        BTW Charlotte you are the only liar on this thread. A hired Russian troll farm chud by Christine Pushaw no doubt.
        The only ones who have to lie are the MAGAts. Dems do not have to lie, you give us more than enough fodder to work with.

    • Joe Corsin

      December 1, 2022 at 9:09 am

      Trump 40,000 lies and counting. You fail!

    • cinda chima

      December 2, 2022 at 12:14 pm

      The best judge of a law is the effect in the real world. All over Florida, books are being removed from shelves, displays about Black History Month and tolerance are being taken down. It’s no wonder that schools are prone to err on the side of censorship. It only takes one parent to complain.

      • David

        December 3, 2022 at 12:15 am

        That’s exactly the goal of laws like this – encouraging the target to self-censor, just in case, because of uncertainty. It’s an old playbook.

    • nail

      December 2, 2022 at 11:50 pm

      Funny that you say left when it was a radical extremist MAGAt who made the decision for the state. ‘
      If I had kids in these schools in FL we would move to another state immediately. I had a fantastic educations and regard this as one of the best gifts you can give your child. Now I understand why 3 of my friends kids quit teaching in FL. They taught at great school were very devoted and all of them said the same thing, they were not going to go to school and wonder if they were going to get a lawsuit from screwy parent for teaching the correct history instead of a authoritarians version of what he wanted taught.
      This is not going to have a good ending. The Dept of Eduction is not going to allow a child to learn desantis version of history where there were no black slaves in this country and the US Constitution was based on the 10 Commandments. He is a sick person and should be institutionalized for using children this way. To suffocate a Childs future in a college and with any of his peers, is abominable. Can’t you see Harry standing up when the are in a college history class and saying to the prof. you are wrong there were no black slaves and they had nothing to do with the Civil War .

  • Elliott Offen

    December 1, 2022 at 9:12 am

    Florida GQP is subordinate to the Nazi Lowriders gang. They only care about Jews when they are right wing. George Soros not so much. They are antisemitic when it comes to George Soros.

    • FRAK FRANK

      December 1, 2022 at 2:41 pm

      > They are antisemitic when it comes to George Soros.

      he is a traitor to free enterprise and all that depend on it.

  • J H

    December 1, 2022 at 10:15 am

    Around the holidays, every school, hospital, government building, etc. you enter (that receives state and/or federal funding) is LITTERED with xmas baubles—creating a fire hazard. It is a VIOLATION of separation church & state. Put up a menorah, cornucopia, people freak. What ya gonna do?

  • Pat Duran

    December 1, 2022 at 10:17 am

    Thank the gods that we still have a free press in Florida, although I’m sure the Christofascists under DeSantis will try and eliminate that asap.

  • Glory Mosity

    December 1, 2022 at 10:23 am

    I want to know how we can support this wonderful parent, Rachel Long

  • It's Complicated

    December 1, 2022 at 10:46 am

    For crying out loud… go read he bill that passed and was signed by the Governor before spewing nonsense about it.

    From a conservative Protestant Christian perspective, I think it is healthy to teach about this Jewish celebration. The story that is celebrated is found in the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees, which IS in Roman Catholic Bibles, NOT in Protestant Bibles (viewed as not Divinely inspired), and NOT in Jewish Bibles (viewed as a period historical writing). In my experience, most Protestant Christians do not know the story or how that led to this Jewish celebration. Cannot speak for Catholic Christians. Have no idea if other non-Christian or non-Jewish faiths know anything about it, but is seems like a good idea for kids to understand a commonly known symbol seen during the winter holiday season, and how Jewish people use that symbol in their celebration of Hanukkah.

    The common objection that arises from teaching about other faiths is not teaching what they believe, rather, it is requiring children to read their respective scriptures, recite chants or catechisms, emulate prayer customs, or to don religious apparel. Just teach kids what they believe, don’t make them imitate it, and don’t proselytize them.

    • GDSmith

      December 1, 2022 at 1:33 pm

      “The common objection that arises from teaching about other faiths is not teaching what they believe, rather, it is requiring children to read their respective scriptures, recite chants or catechisms, emulate prayer customs, or to don religious apparel. Just teach kids what they believe, don’t make them imitate it, and don’t proselytize them.”

      No one WAS doing that; the bill was based on conspiracist (emphasis on the ‘racist’ part) delusions and baldfaced lies, like ever-so-many conservative bugaboos.

      The bill is absolutely yet another step in advancing the creeping white supremacist authoritarianism that the GOP is 100% behind.

      You couldn’t be more wrong if you tried.

    • FRAK FRANK

      December 1, 2022 at 2:33 pm

      You ain’t a conservative anymore mister. Pretty soon you won’t be a christian either. Were taking over.

  • FRAK FRANK

    December 1, 2022 at 2:39 pm

    > I want to know how we can support this wonderful parent, Rachel Long

    Find her a condo in miami.

  • David

    December 1, 2022 at 3:03 pm

    It’s revealing that one of the principal’s concerns was that if teaching about Chanukah is allowed they will also have to allow teaching about Diwali and Kwanza. Tell us more.

    • Liz

      December 1, 2022 at 3:30 pm

      I’m glad you mentioned this because I found it telling as well.

Comments are closed.


#FlaPol

Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Kelly Hayes, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Andrew Wilson, Wes Wolfe, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704




Sign up for Sunburn


Categories