Recent changes at Kootenai Valley Head Start have some parents wondering what happened to the holiday cheer.
In a letter sent to parents and guardians, the program stated it would no longer celebrate holidays in the classroom. The letter also asked parents to leave goodies at home because of the child obesity issue.
“It was never our intent to offend,” Director Peggy Rayome said. “The goal is to make no child feel excluded.”
Response to the letter has been mixed. Family Services Coordinator Toya Laveway said she has had several conversations with parents in the past who have expressed concern about classroom holiday events. Teachers are rarely unified in support of such activities. While there have been some strong opponents to the changes, Laveway suggested a silent majority may be pleased.
One upset parent is Brittany Logan, a member of the Kootenai Valley Head Start Health Advisory Board.
“They did not follow the procedure and policy they are supposed to,” Logan said. “They went behind peoples’ backs. I told them I am considering pulling my two children out of the program and the response was they have a long waiting list. How do I tell my child your sister brought in cupcakes but you can’t?”
The letter suggests that instead of celebrating Halloween, children can focus on the harvest and fall. Instead of Christmas, snowflakes and sledding can get some recognition.
Some parents have seen a previously scheduled Christmas program cancelled. According to Laveway, four of the six teaching teams had already chosen not to participate.
““We only have 480 hours to get these children kindergarten-ready,” Rayome said. “Our clientele are the neediest of the needy. Parents have expressed concern about spending money they don’t have on treats and events.”
A program of the Department of Health and Human Services, Head Start is not a religious entity. Rayome added Christmas programs are not an annual occurrence. Still, some parents feel they are getting mixed messages.
“I wouldn’t be bothered so much if they had not told my child there was a Christmas program and now there isn’t,” Holly Volkenand said. “Now, I have a broken-hearted four-year-old.”
Several parents mentioned posting critical responses to the changes on the program’s Facebook page only to see them deleted.
Angelica Pankey, a Kootenai Valley Head Start board chair, said the board is just as upset as some parents.
“We were notified of this when the parents were,” Pankey said. “We’re going to start at square one at our board meeting.”
Rayome stressed that while teachers may not address cultural and religious topics, parents are encouraged to visit their children’s classrooms and share what makes their family special. In the future, parents can bring in goodies but teachers will package them in plastic bags so teachers may send treats home with children at the end of the day. That way, parents and guardians may decide whether the child may eat the snack or not.
The change on treats followed a particularly problematic dress-up day that coincided with Halloween.
“It was unreal the amount of sugar that was brought into the center that day,” Rayome said. “We had several children get sick.”
Speaking in the staff workroom where Christmas stockings hang, Rayome and Education Director Ken Foss said they did not originally think a change in policy and procedure would be needed.
“The dilemma is in treating each class the same when they have different wants,” Foss said.
Pankey said the policy council will have quite a bit of back and forth with the program’s top brass in the following months.
“We encourage parents to talk with us and contact their policy council representatives,” Rayome said.