Minnesota school bans Valentine’s Day in favor of diversity

Minnesota school bans Valentine's Day in favor of diversity

Nabeela Syed, Features Editor

Although lining school hallways with pink and red streamers and exchanging heart-shaped cards is the norm in many elementary schools, nationally, there has been controversy over the celebration of Valentine’s Day in public schools.

This past Valentine’s Day, the students at St. Paul’s Bruce Vento Elementary School in Minnesota were not allowed to partake in these common school celebrations. Hoping to create a more inclusive environment for his diverse student body, Principal Scott Masini of St. Paul’s banned the celebration of dominant holidays including Valentine’s Day, Christmas, and Thanksgiving.

While the principal aims to create an improved environment for his students, his efforts have been questioned. Social studies teacher Jason Spoor-Harvey acknowledges the idea of inclusion, but firmly believes this ban discourages diversity.

“I think that this just ignores the issue at hand. It’s kind of like when people say they’re colorblind. It’s trying to say that we’re all one people and ignores the natural differences between them. By eliminating it, you’re not solving the problem. You’re feeding the problem,” Spoor-Harvey said. “Instead of showing people how similar we are and exposing them to people’s traditions, you’re doing the exact opposite, you’re just feeding this division that is among people and creating greater fear of the unknown.”

Masini’s concern over the celebration of certain holidays stemmed from the cultural diversity present in the student body at St. Paul’s. Putting himself in the shoes of his students, Masini believed that his students would feel like outsiders if they did not celebrated these specific holidays. To ensure that this would not occur, a school wide ban on the celebrating these religiously affiliated holidays was placed.

Although Masini used this ban as a way to promote secularism, sophomore Arash Abbas disagrees with Masini’s actions.

“If they want to be inclusive, they shouldn’t ban certain holidays, but promote diversity and other cultures,” Abbas said. “Make the atmosphere comfortable so other don’t feel embarrassed or too awkward to celebrate their holiday.”

Questioning the origin and celebrations of Valentine’s Day has become more prominent as this controversy popularized recently. Senior Anusha Thotakura considers the extent to which Valentine’s Day remains a holiday embedded in religion.

“I think it’s a little weird. I understand that they’re trying to make it more equal, but because Valentine’s Day isn’t celebrated religiously, it shouldn’t be banned,” Thotakura said. “It’s a nice gesture, but it just doesn’t make sense.”

Although Valentine’s Day has evolved into a holiday centered more on commercialism rather than religion, Thotakura believes the ban on celebrating holidays that are still religiously centered is justified.

“Although you don’t realize how much religion is emphasized in school, it’s definitely there. It’s also a subconscious thing if you assume that everyone celebrates a certain religion holidays,” Thotakura said. “Freedom to practice your own religion includes freedom not to practice a religion. If you’re celebrating all religions in school, then you’re forcing at least some sort of religious influence on students. I think it’s important to understand that it’s okay not to follow a religion.”

Social studies teacher Jacqueline Dickens believes this ban promotes the separation of church and state mandated in the Constitution.

From a government perspective, by banning holidays like Valentine’s Day and Christmas, the Minnesota school is strengthening the wall of separation between church and state that is created by the first amendment,” Dickens said. “However, even with the First Amendment’s protections against a national religion, the United States has a long history of Christian traditions, so the elementary school’s ban can seem like a radical position even though it is a decision founded on Constitutional ideals.