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Education Reporter

Head Start Frosts Santa Out
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Head Start officials in St. Peter, Minnesota gave Santa the "heave-ho-ho-ho," according to the Mankato Free Press. Dennis Jackson said he was told "it was against some people's wishes" for him to don the red suit and visit with about three-dozen children enrolled in two Head Start classes this year. Jackson has distributed candy to children in the program at his own expense for the past four years.

"It kind of burnt me up," said Jackson, speculating that excessive cultural sensitivity to immigrant families who don't celebrate Christmas was behind the action. Chris Marben, coordinator for regional Head Start programs administered through the Minnesota Valley Action Council, confirmed his suspicions. "The simple truth is that southern Minnesota has become a much more culturally diverse society than it was a few decades ago. Part of our challenge in Head Start is providing an environment where young children from many different cultures can all feel comfortable," she said.

Marben specifically mentioned respecting the wishes of [Muslim] Somalis in the program, though she did not specify how many parents had objected. She indicated that if more than one family opposed the celebration, then that would be sufficient to cancel the event.

Jackson countered that children from other cultures had enjoyed his playing Santa with them in years past, and blamed their parents for being unreasonable. "They're not respecting the majority," he said. "My feeling is [objecting families] can take their kids out of class for half an hour and let the other kids enjoy it. They should sacrifice, not rule."

In the face of community backlash, two Somalian parents with kids in the program came forward to say they agree with Jackson, and claimed that Head Start officials have unfairly made their ethnic group scapegoats. Fanah Adam said respect for varied beliefs and customs is a two-way street, and that children with objecting parents should simply not participate. "Santa and the families [were] not the decision-makers; Head Start administrators are who sent Santa away," Adam said.

The other parent who came forward, Lul Ahmed, called St. Peter a "lovely community where we live together," and said Somalis there did not want to be seen as negative. Both Adam and Ahmed want program administrators to acknowledge their error in canceling the event. "They need to make an apology. They need to correct this mess," said Ahmed. (Mankatofreepress.com, 12-14-10 and 12-22-10)

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