School that canceled Valentine's Day reinstates celebration after parents push back

Rhode Island school canceled Valentine’s Day, then reversed its policy when parents complained. (Credit: Facebook)
Rhode Island school canceled Valentine’s Day, then reversed its policy when parents complained. (Credit: Facebook)

When a Rhode Island elementary school teacher canceled Valentine’s Day to respect families that don’t celebrate the holiday, parents said “No way,” and pushed back.

The Joseph A. Whelan Elementary School teacher, whose identity has not been made public, sent parents a note on Monday explaining the cancelation, according to the Providence, R.I., news station WLNE-TV. “As I am respectful of all student’s and family’s [sic] beliefs, we will not be passing out anything for Valentine’s Day,” she wrote in the note, which was posted to Facebook. “I have families and students that do not observe and I must respect that. Thank you for understanding.”

The note was shared in the Facebook group What’s going on in North Providence, and hundreds of parents and commenters had their say: “The teacher needs to respect students who want to participate also. It is not a religious event… it’s about love and caring. Who can be against that?” and “My daughter ‘believes’ in love, the ‘non-believers’ need to respect her beliefs!!”

Students in one classroom at Joseph A. Whelan School in North Providence, will not be celebrating Valentine’s Day. What…

Posted by What's going on in North Providence on Tuesday, February 12, 2019

An idea was batted around that the school was trying to avoid shaming families of limited means: “Do you think this is maybe deeper and some children do not have parents that will help them with or buy valentines cards for the class? I can see where a child would feel shame and sadness about not being able to give a valentine to their classmates…”

“The teacher is the leader in that classroom. She has a good reason for what she is doing. There may be a student who is grieving, a student who has very little,” another added. “There are reasons teachers make these decisions; they’re not made lightly.”

A mom posted an email she sent to the principal that read, in part, “This is the first time I have ever been embarrassed to be a Whelan parent…”

St. Valentine’s Day does commemorate a Christian saint. But the tradition has become so commercialized that religion now plays no role in the celebration.

As the parent of a child with food allergies, Nicole Bruns agrees with the school’s no-candy policy. “But what harm is a card and a pencil with a heart-shaped eraser?” she tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It supports love and friendship and it’s fun for the kids.”

Principal Murphy declined to comment when reached by Yahoo Lifestyle, and the North Providence School Department did not return an interview request. A school committee member wrote in the Facebook group that this week that a compromise had been reached. “Good morning, I just want to take a moment to let everyone know when the Principal became aware yesterday of this unfortunate situation she met with the teacher and they have a plan in place to address the student’s religious beliefs and provide equity for the rest of the class to celebrate Valentine’s Day!”

Bruns sent Yahoo Lifestyle an email from Murphy that she received on Wednesday. “I would like to communicate that after a discussion with the classroom teacher, we have come to a positive resolution for celebrating Valentine’s Day. The students are allowed to exchange Valentine’s cards and/or items that fall within our wellness policy (no candy please). Items will be distributed during school tomorrow.”

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