Byko: Who took Christmas off the school calendar?

Vince Iezzi applauds addition of Islamic holidays to school calendar but wonders why the Christian holidays have been erased.

"What does a citizen have to do to be heard in this democracy?"

South Philadelphian Vince Iezzi is asking me because he has a question and no one else is hearing him.

He says he has written to the mayor; his councilman, Mark Squilla; the at-large Council people; the Board of Education; the city and state human rights offices - even the TV stations.

He has received only one reply, which I'll get to in a moment, but zilch from all the other "public servants."

His is not really a big question, not "important" in the grand scheme of things, but something that's bugging him, and not him alone, I think.

The question formed when he read that two Muslim holidays were to be added to the Philadelphia public school calendar - Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.

That's fine, says Iezzi, 80, who is a writer and an observant Catholic. (Iezzi worked in advertising at our news organization before he retired.)

He looked at the school calendar and saw the usual - general holidays like Presidents' Day, New Year's Day and Martin Luther King Jr., plus two days for the Jewish Rosh Hashanah holiday, and another for Yom Kippur.

What once was the Christmas break is now the five-day winter break, and what once was the Easter break is now the five-day spring break.

Here's part of what he wrote in his letter to one and all:

"I applaud the School District's naming of two Islamic school holidays," along with the Jewish holidays, but "the calendar shows the Christian Christmas holiday and the Christian Easter holiday as Winter Recess and Spring Recess times. This to me is blatant and prejudicial and discriminatory."

"It seems as if it is OK for students to be Jewish and Muslim and have their holidays declared properly, but it is not acceptable to be a Christian and have any of their holidays expressed properly."

Mayor Kenney's response was a textbook illustration of a non-responsive response: "Philadelphia was founded on the ideals of freedom and equality, and my administration will continue to pursue those ideals in fighting for a fair and inclusive city and government that serves all Philadelphians."

He thanked Iezzi for expressing himself.

Not a single word addressing the issue raised by Iezzi, who told me it feels as if the city's fabled inclusion embraces everyone but Christians.

Would calling the Christian holidays by their names be offensive to some, and if so, why? If Yom Kippur and Eid al-Fitr do not offend, why would Christmas?

This reminds me of a controversy in 2010 when the operator of the Christmas Village marketplace outside City Hall was pressured by the city into changing the name to Holiday Village. Why? Among a few dozen alleged complaints were a couple from employees at the Municipal Services Building who said it made them "uncomfortable." The city jumped to make sure a handful of people were not made "uncomfortable."

It should have sent them to sensitivity training, because sensitivity has to be mutual.

As I wrote at the time, the rights of a minority must be respected, but this has been pretzeled into dismissing the rights of the majority.

The idea that Easter and Christmas seemingly were banished was a pebble in Iezzi's shoe. The lack of response from anyone but the mayor just made the pebble larger. He wanted to be heard, and answered, and not in the snail slick from the mayor's office.

I did what the mayor's office could have done and called the school district - which did not respond to Iezzi - and put a few questions to spokeswoman Chanice Savage, who checked around and checked back in.

Yes, the school calendar on the Web uses "spring" and "winter," but on the school wall calendar distributed in print and online, Savage says, the holidays still have their proper names.

"The wall calendar lists the actual days as Christmas and Easter, but the seasonal break itself is considered Winter and Spring break," replies Savage.

So I have an answer for Iezzi. The school district does list Easter and Christmas . . . if you use the right calendar, and Savage says "the wall calendar would likely be considered the official calendar."


stubyko@phillynews.com

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