Editor’s Note: This story has been amended to reflect further comments from the parents of a Centerville Elementary School student who removed their child from class over concerns for their and their child’s safety. The parents told the Anti-Defamation League Thursday they were traveling on a previously planned vacation. The family told LNP and LancasterOnline their child was being harassed and blamed for the cancellation of “A Christmas Carol,” and that they were concerned for their and their child's safety. LNP and LancasterOnline stand by the original reporting on this story.
A Hempfield elementary school is under fire for ending its longstanding production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” and a Jewish family said it has removed its child from class after being harassed and blamed for the cancellation.
The unfolding controversy at Centerville Elementary School played out this week in national conservative media outlets including FOX News and Breitbart News Network, which portray the school’s move as part of a “war on Christmas.”
The school, however, has said it put an end to the play this year because it took 15 to 20 hours of classroom time to produce.
The play has been a tradition at the school for more than three decades.
The fifth-grader’s parents, who spoke to LNP on the condition that they not be named, say they didn’t complain about the play or request that it be canceled, but just asked in September if their child could be excused from the play, and were told yes.
Since the school announced the cancellation in November, however, they say the child has been harassed by classmates.
Principal Tom Kramer, who is in his first year at the school, posted a letter on the school website on Dec. 15 confronting rumors “that one or two families influenced this decision” to cancel the play.
“That’s just not true,” he wrote.
The instructional time was the school’s primary concern, he said, but added that the decision also “is rooted in the desire to be respectful of the many cultural and religious backgrounds represented by the students.”
Parents and staffers offered a chance to revive the play outside of classroom time have not stepped forward to make that possible, he added.
‘Not taking any chances’
Since the Fox and Breitbart stories, a spokeswoman for the school district said, the school has received at least 200 emails and phone calls either supporting or objecting to the decision or asking for additional information.
The Jewish student’s parents say some of the reactions to the stories frightened them.
After seeing reader comments like “It would be nice if we had the addresses of those concerned citizens and, I bet, this info is known to people living in the area” on the Breitbart story, the parents pulled their child out of school.
“There’s no way we’re going to take a chance after the pizza incident,” they said, referencing the man who fired an assault rifle in a Washington D.C area pizzeria after reading a fake-news story that said Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of there.
An earlier version of this story stated the family had fled the county over fears for their child’s safety. But the Anti-Defamation League, in a statement posted Thursday, said it had spoken to the family and the family said it was traveling on vacation.
“News reports alleging that a Jewish family has ‘fled’ Lancaster County are untrue and damaging,” said Nancy Baron-Baer, a regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, which works to fight anti-Semitism. “We spoke with the family, who explained that they went on a previously-planned vacation for the holidays. Stories like this can sow fear in the Jewish community and beyond, and it is important to stop the spread of misinformation.”
Reached for comment Friday, Robin Burstein, associate regional director of the Anti-Defamation League told LNP that the family "left one day earlier than they had originally planned, because they were concerned about the backlash of the media that was put out over the weekend, but they did not flee."
LNP's story came several days after the news appeared on FOX and Breitbart on Sunday.
No further comment was available from the family Friday.
In a previous interview, the mother of the Centerville student said the family hoped to return their child to the school but that they were waiting to see how the matter played out.
“We've seen some really beautiful things from the people in this community,” the mother told LNP.
The Anti-Defamation League commended the district for clarifying the reasons behind the play’s cancellation.
“There is no truth to the rumor that the school cancelled A Christmas Carol at the request of parents. The Hempfield School District released a FAQ clearly stating that the play was cancelled due to the inordinate amount of class time taken up by rehearsals. We commend the district for setting the record straight,” the statement read.