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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 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.

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.

Principal apologizes

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.

Thank you.

To read a 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.

Anne

Melanie October 18, 2011 at 06:17 PM
The day Mike Pabian left his reign of principal at the Kennedy School all students, current and future lost a little piece of solidarity! I had the misfortune of dealing with Dr Foley and I can homestly say the is the most arrogant woman I have ever met so these words she spewed in her email at her school do not suprise me in the least!
Peter K. Connolly October 20, 2011 at 01:12 AM
She should quietly pack her bag and depart. She and those of her ilk are the reason why our children are no longer being educated. She, of course, is the first generation product of the dumbing down in our federal "education" system.
norman linton October 20, 2011 at 01:25 AM
It is extremely unfortunate for both the students and teachers that they have to put up with such a narrow minded educator.
Amanda Kersey October 20, 2011 at 04:46 PM
From the e-mail posted in this story, I think Ms. Foley was asking teachers to consider telling their students more- and more complicated stories about the conquest of the Americas than the traditional ones they might have grown up hearing. It seems she was attempting to broaden, instead of narrow, the minds of her staff. Or do you disagree?
Heidi Dietrich October 23, 2011 at 04:41 PM
I have no problem with someone broadening the minds of their staff however I am getting sick of the political correctness. Being careful around Thanksgiving? Tough. It's getting so we Americans don't have rights anymore. All this sensitivity towards other cultures has become a stomp on every American's rights and I'm sick of it. The pilgrims came to America to escape from religious persecution so why do we have to be "careful" on that holiday? It's our holiday and if you don't like it, don't celebrate it, Dr. Foley. Don't dictate what we should do. If you really don't like it, leave the country. I'll hold the door for you.
Dana October 24, 2011 at 02:04 AM
Dear Anne, You are a disgrace to our public school system. You have no business influencing children, in fact, you are dangerous. My children will never step foot in a public school because of liberals like you. Resign, quit or GET OUT! Sincerely, Everyone
Ron Newman October 24, 2011 at 12:39 PM
By "political correctness" do you mean "historical correctness"? Because that is all she was trying to do, improve the accuracy of the history that is being taught. Columbus wasn't a 100% Good Guy.
Tom Walsh October 24, 2011 at 12:40 PM
The Pilgrims did not come to America to escape religious persecution, though. It's true that that's why they left England. But, their first stop was Holland. In Holland, they had religious freedom. And so as their children grew up, they started using this religious freedom and leaving the church. Too much religious freedom for their tastes! So, the Pilgrims came to America, where they could construct a society where people would be essentially forced to remain in their church. In a sense, the Pilgrims came to America to engage in religious persecution, not to escape from it.
Dana October 25, 2011 at 12:39 AM
She is a hack and needs to resign. Since this came up, I have heard nothing nice about her. Just an cold woman who makes people call her doctor. We don't need people like Anne in the schools and that email exposed her.

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