Somerville's Holiday Kerfuffle: Principal Apologizes, Mayor Responds on MSNBC
Somerville was thrust into the national spotlight for an email about Columbus Day and Thanksgiving sent by the principal of the Kennedy School.
The principal of the John F. Kennedy Elementary School has apologized to parents, staff and students for sending a controversial email that made national news, and Somerville's mayor, Joseph Curtatone, appeared on MSNBC to defend Somerville's reputation.
The controversy started Friday when the Boston Herald published a column, titled "Fun takes a holiday in Somerville," in which the columnist quoted from an email written by Kennedy School Principal Anne Foley. In the email, the school's head said of Christopher Columbus, "For many of us and our students celebrating this particular person is an insult and a slight to the people he annihilated" and, "On the same lines—we need to be careful around Thanksgiving Day time as well."
You can read Foley's original email below.
The column, which also said Somerville schools "ban" Halloween costumes, soon became national news.
Now, Foley has apologized to parents, staff and students. In a message delivered to the Kennedy School community by email and robo call, Foley said:
This message is to address the Herald article and its aftermath that occurred this past Friday. As we all know anything posted on the internet has the potential to become public. The email I sent was addressed to Kennedy School staff with the intent of sparking an educational discussion on how we can address the multi-cultural perspectives on our upcoming holidays. If this message had been intended for a broader audience, I would have chosen less inflammatory words and provided more of a context for the message. I apologize if my words offended anyone – that was not my intent.
Please know that nothing has changed regarding the instruction and events planned at the Kennedy School this year. As always, teachers and classrooms address holidays as part of their curriculum. I support the outstanding staff at the Kennedy School who will continue to provide the best education for our students. I want to thank all of those who have offered me kind words.
To read a statement from Tony Pierantozzi, superintendent of Somerville Public Schools, about the controversy, click here and read the comments section.
Curtatone on MSNBC
Meanwhile, Somerville's mayor, Joseph Curtatone, appeared on MSNBC to discuss the controversy with host Martin Bashir.
On the show, Curtatone said the Boston Herald columnist accomplished her goal, which was to "create controversy, raise people's ire and outrage over something that just isn't true. We do not ban holidays in Somerville or our schools."
Curtatone said, "We might disagree about the rhetoric she"—the Kennedy School principal—"used about how to talk around Thanksgiving and Columbus day."
He added, "I would have used a different form of words and words describing that event. But to ignore any discussion around the events of any historical moment in time is to avoid history … and that's not what we're teaching [in our school.]"
Teaching Columbus Day and Thanksgiving at the Kennedy School
Somerville Public Schools provided a list of lessons and activities the Kennedy School uses to celebrate holidays.
For Columbus Day, some of the activities and lessons include:
- Second graders read a story and then questions about the holiday are reviewed. Map skills are also tied into the lesson and discussion.
- Students sing, recite poems, make hats with three ships and make drawings on coloring sheets
- Students participate in role playing and skits.
- Staff acknowledge Columbus' place in history and engage students in discussions and readings about the subject.
For Thanksgiving, some activities and lessons include:
- Third graders visit Plimoth Plantation. This is tied into learning about early colonial life, culminating in a "colonial day" where students dress in colonial garb.
- The school holds a "Turkey Bowl" flag football game with students and teachers.
- Many classes have potluck meals for families, and children sing songs and recite poems.
Principal Foley's original email
Here is the controversial email Anne Foley, principal of the John F. Kennedy Elementary School, sent to staff on Oct. 5. It was provided by Somerville Public Schools.
From: Foley, Anne
Sent: Wednesday, October 05, 2011 7:44 AM
To: Kennedy School
Subject: our next holiday
When we were young we might have been able to claim ignorance of the atrocities that Christopher Columbus committed against the indigenous peoples of the “new” world. We can no longer do so. For many of us and our students celebrating this particular person is an insult and a slight to the people he annihilated.
On the same lines – we need to be careful around the Thanksgiving Day time as well. For many people this was just one big happy meal. We can talk about this more during grade level meetings today if you choose.