O'FALLON, Mo. – "Winter Break" is out, and "Christmas Break" is back for the Francis Howell School District in suburban St. Louis.
The board for the St. Charles County school district voted 4-3 Thursday to change the name of the winter vacation, following a debate that became heated at times. The move came despite concerns by some that the change excludes non-Christians or could prompt lawsuits.
"We've created another media frenzy ... we are not living up to our responsibility," board member Marty Hodits said.
Board member Bob Farr, a pastor, also opposed the change, arguing it would be unfair to religious minorities.
"This is a public institution, and we should try not to offend people," Farr said.
But supporters downplayed the change's significance, saying it is simply intended to acknowledge that most people in the district celebrate Christmas, which is recognized as a federal holiday.
"It is not meant to be disrespectful," said Terry Black, the board member who introduced the proposal. "This is not about curriculum, this is not about forcing religious beliefs on anyone."
Board vice president Bill Spencer said, "I don't see personally how changing a word on a calendar is going to create a theocracy."
Opponents have said their main objection is that the proposal could denigrate other celebrations, such as Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Ramadan, that may fall during the vacation.
A law firm analyzed the proposal and determined it would not violate the federal or Missouri constitutions.
Still, Hodits said after the vote he had been contacted by organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union that might be considering legal action.
"I'm sure we're going to feel some repercussions," he said.