Claremont Parents Clash Over Kindergarten Thanksgiving Costumes

Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times, November 25, 2008

{snip}

Parents in this quiet university town [Claremont, California] are sharply divided over what these construction-paper symbols represent: A simple child’s depiction of the traditional (if not wholly accurate) tale of two factions setting aside their differences to give thanks over a shared meal? Or a cartoonish stereotype that would never be allowed of other racial, ethnic or religious groups?

{snip}

Raheja [Michelle Raheja, mother of a kindergartner at Condit Elementary School], whose mother is a Seneca, wrote the letter upon hearing of a four-decade district tradition, where kindergartners at Condit and Mountain View elementary schools take annual turns dressing up and visiting the other school for a Thanksgiving feast. {snip}

Raheja, an English professor at UC Riverside who specializes in Native American literature, said she met with teachers and administrators in hopes that the district could hold a public forum to discuss alternatives that celebrate thankfulness without “dehumanizing” her daughter’s ancestry.

“There is nothing to be served by dressing up as a racist stereotype,” she said.

Last week, rumors began to circulate on both campuses that the district was planning to cancel the event, and infuriated parents argued over the matter at a heated school board meeting Thursday. District Supt. David Cash announced at the end of the meeting that the two schools had tentatively decided to hold the event without the costumes, and sent a memo to parents Friday confirming the decision.

{snip}

Raheja is “using those children as a political platform for herself and her ideas,” Constance Garabedian said as her 5-year-old Mountain View kindergartner happily practiced a song about Native Americans in the background. “I’m not a professor and I’m not a historian, but I can put the dots together.”

The debate is far from over. Some parents plan to send their children to school in costume Tuesday—doubting that administrators will force them to take them off. The following day, some plan to keep their children home, costing the district attendance funds to punish them for modifying the event.

“She’s not going to tell us what we can and cannot wear,” said Dena Murphy, whose 5-year-old son attends Mountain View. “We’re tired of [district officials] cowing down to people. It’s not right.”

{snip}

Condit Elementary School

 Students by Ethnicity 

 This School 

 California School Average 

% American Indian

1%

n/a

% Asian

15%

11%

% Hispanic

22%

50%

% Black

5%

7%

% White

47%

28%

% Unknown

10%

4%

Mountain View Elementary School

 Students by Ethnicity 

 This School 

 California School Average 

% American Indian

n/a

n/a

% Asian

13%

11%

% Hispanic

36%

50%

% Black

13%

7%

% White

29%

28%

% Unknown

9%

4%

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