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'Easter,' 'Christmas' to stay on Greensburg Salem school calendar

| Friday, Oct. 4, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The words “Christmas recess” and “Easter recess” apparently will stay on Greensburg Salem's school calendar, despite a request from a Greensburg woman to change them for reasons of separation of church and state.

School directors indicated during a discussion on Wednesday that they want to keep the terms and not use the terms “winter break” and “spring break” suggested by resident Nina Lewis.

Director Lee Kunkle defended using the terms, saying to many people, Christmas and Easter are celebrated but have no religious overtones.

Christmas trees, the Easter bunny and gifts are symbols of the holidays and are used in schools but are not religious, he explained, to the apparent satisfaction of most directors.

“It's a national holiday,” Kunkle said. “We're holding it has nothing to do with religion.”

“I see no reason for a change,” President Ron Mellinger added during the board discussion.

No director voiced a contrary opinion during the meeting, a nonvoting session. Most directors in attendance indicated support of Kunkle and Mellinger's statements.

Lewis, who requested the changes after meeting with Superintendent Eileen Amato, said she has sought similar revisions from the district for decades.

“We're of the Jewish faith and we don't celebrate Christmas and Easter,” she said on Thursday. “There's Muslims in the school district, nonreligious people. It should be called winter and spring. ... There's supposed to be a separation of church and state in the schools.

“I don't care about the overtones it has,” she added. “I don't celebrate any of these holidays. I want it to say winter and spring.”

Gregg Roman, community relationship council director, Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, said his group's primary concern is fairness to all faiths in schools.

If a Jew requests that a menorah be placed next to a Christmas tree, his group would demand that the school district allow it, Roman said.

Amato told directors that she knows of at least four other school districts in Westmoreland County that use Christmas and Easter: Mt. Pleasant Area, Arnold-New Kensington, Derry Area and Kiski Area.

“Our Founding Fathers never intended that all reference to God should be eliminated, but rather that our nation should not have a national religion, such as the Church of England,” Director Frank Gazze said on Thursday. “They wanted to have religious freedom for all, but that does not eliminate God from everything.”

“Everybody has different thoughts on how they want to call holidays, even the Fourth of July and Labor Day,” director Rich Guerrieri said.

Several others directors couldn't be reached for comment.

In 1999, Greensburg Salem changed “Christmas parties” to “holiday parties” in a handbook after receiving a similar request, according to published accounts. At some point later, the district went back to using Christmas.

Solicitor John Scales said he knew of no legal reason compelling directors to grant the change, repeating that Christmas is a national holiday.

“I think it's discretionary,” he said. “To the best of my knowledge, the courts have never made a decision, ‘You have to do that.”'

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or bstiles@tribweb.com.

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