Fact Check

PS 169 Pledge of Allegiance and Holiday Ban Controversy

The social media outrage machine went into overdrive following claims a Brooklyn principal banned holidays and the Pledge of Allegiance.

Published Dec. 14, 2015

PS 169 Principal Eujin Jaela Kim banned the Pledge of Allegiance, Santa, and Thanksgiving.
What's True

The Pledge of Allegiance was no longer recited over the loudspeaker, but said in class (which has changed); the DoE issued memoranda earlier in 2015 reiterating policies pertaining to secular holiday celebrations.

What's False

The Pledge of Allegiance was banned; Principal Kim banned Thanksgiving and/or Santa Claus.

On 13 December 2015 the New York Post published an article provocatively titled "School principal bans Santa, Thanksgiving and Pledge of Allegiance," which held:

Santa Claus is banned. The Pledge of Allegiance is no longer recited. “Harvest festival” has replaced Thanksgiving, and “winter celebrations” substitute for Christmas parties.

New principal Eujin Jaela Kim has given PS 169 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, a politically correct scrub-down, to the dismay of teachers and parents.

“We definitely can’t say Christmas, nothing with Christmas on it, nothing with Santa,” PTA president Mimi Ferrer said administrators told her. “No angels. We can’t even have a star because it can represent a religious system, like the Star of David.”

A memo last month from assistant principal Jose Chaparro suggested a “harvest festival instead of Thanksgiving or a winter celebration instead of a Christmas party.” He urged staff to “be sensitive of the diversity of our families. Not all children celebrate the same holidays.”

Other outlets quickly picked up on the story. However, as the above-excerpted portion indicates, the information in the story's lead paragraphs came not from Kim herself, but an aggrieved Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) president. Whether or not that parent's descriptions of Kim's policies in any way lined up with reality was not deeply investigated by the Post.

Subsequent paragraphs hint at the fact that secular-leaning guidelines are part of a wider New York City Department of Education (DoE) policy and not exclusive to Kim:

In a recent directive to all schools, the city Department of Education said it permits holiday symbols including Christmas trees, kinaras (candleholders for Kwanzaa), dreidels, Hanukkah menorahs and the Islamic star-and-crescent. Displays that “depict images of deities, religious figures or religious texts” are prohibited.

In a memo to staff this month, PS 169 business manager Johanna Bjorken added: “In case you are wondering about grey areas: Santa Claus is considered an ‘other religious figure.’ ”

But a DOE spokesman told The Post that Santa is allowed as a secular figure.

For perspective, the New York City DoE has jurisdiction over 1,800 schools within the five boroughs; PS 169 is just one of those schools. The "secular holiday" directive was presumably issued to all schools, including PS 169.

We contacted the New York City Department of Education (lines to PS 169 were busy all morning) to ask for further clarification on Kim's purported policies; a person with whom we spoke indicated that a representative would later send a statement regarding the controversy to Snopes.com.

However, the department representative also confirmed that the Pledge of Allegiance was not "banned" at the school in any way, shape, or form. The Pledge was once read over the loudspeaker, but is now recited in individual classrooms at teacher discretion. No one is banned from saying it, nor is anyone compelled to say it; the Post's own article indicated that overtly religious celebrations were part of memoranda issued by the DoE, not Kim specifically.  Additionally, the headline's assertion that the Pledge of Allegiance was banned was incorrect.

On 14 December 2015 a New York City DoE representative confirmed to Snopes.com that Kim "in no way disallowed celebration of Thanksgiving," and indicated that the Pledge of Allegiance would again be recited over the loudspeaker with morning announcements (versus individually in classrooms.) The DoE further confirmed that its directive allowed "secular representation of the holiday season, and allows the use of Santa as a holiday symbol with secular dimensions," clarifying some confusion over whether he was considered a religious symbol.

In a statement, DoE spokesperson Devora Kaye told us:

We work to foster inclusive communities in our schools that welcome students and families, and celebrate the diverse values and traditions of all New Yorkers. This principal continues to work closely with her school community to ensure PS 169 is an inclusive school, meet students’ and families’ needs, and celebrate the values that make her community and New York City great.

In short, the Pledge of Allegiance is not now and never was banned by Principal Kim at PS 169, and the DoE confirmed the Pledge will be recited over the loudspeaker going forward. Guidelines issued by the DoE clarified that Santa Claus was permissible as a "symbol with secular dimensions," and at no point was Thanksgiving (or discussion of it) banned in PS 169 or any school. Moreover, holiday-related directives encompassed all schools within the DoE's bailiwick, and were based on the widely observed policy of schools not endorsing or promoting any particular religion.


Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.