There will be no candy hearts, chocolate hearts, or even those perplexingly popular cinnamon hearts that nobody likes at Bruce Vento Elementary on Feb. 14 — nor will any colourful cartoon cards be exchanged.
If students at the Saint Paul, Minn. public school want to celebrate Valentine's Day, they'll have to do it on their own time, away from the classroom.
Same goes for Christmas, Halloween and Thanksgiving, according to a letter penned by principal Scott Masini.
"I have come to the difficult decision to discontinue the celebration of the dominant holidays until we can come to a better understanding of how the dominant view will suppress someone else's view," wrote Masini in a Facebook note addressed to the families of his students last week.
"My personal feeling is we need to find a way to honour and engage in holidays that are inclusive of our student population."
The Star Tribune, which published portions of Masini's letter in a story about the school's new mandate, reports that the controversial note first surfaced Wednesday on a private Facebook page called "Supporting St. Paul Students and Teachers."
By Thursday morning, dozens of parents had reportedly voiced their discontent, calling the move everything from "very sad" to "totally ridiculous."
This didn't come as a surprise to Masini, though. He told parents in his original letter that the elimination of holiday celebrations at school "will be an unpopular decision with some of you."
"I'm struggling with this and I don't know what the right answer is," said Masini in another statement released by Saint Paul Public Schools on Thursday. "But, what I do know is celebrating some holidays and not others is not inclusive of all of the students we serve."
Thank you Vento Families for celebrating our diversity! Fantastic culture night at Vento! pic.twitter.com/PlOhjuTGaH— @VentoElementary
According to the Star Tribune, Saint Paul is one of Minnesota's largest and most ethnically diverse school districts.
State demographic data cited by the paper shows that Bruce Vento in particular has a student body that is 52.3 per cent Asian/Pacific Islander, 35.4 per cent black, 6.9 per cent Hispanic, 4.3 per cent white and one per cent American Indian/Alaskan native.
More than half of the kindergarten to Grade 6 elementary school's students are learning English as a second language according to the Tribune. The school district itself also boasts a multicultural resource centre and encourages what it calls "culturally responsive teaching" in its facilities.
In 2008, a school board policy was revised to say that individual schools should "discourage lavish programs and festivities arranged to celebrate holidays and other special days" with the exception of legal holidays like Veterans Day and Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
This clearly factored into the Bruce Vento decision, which was made by Masini in consultation with his staff.
"Because Saint Paul Public Schools is a diverse district that is filled with families from around the world we strive to respect all cultures and all students," reads the school district's statement. "We recognize that not every student celebrates or participates in some or all holidays. We have a board policy that discourages programs and festivities that celebrate observances unless they are required by law."
1st Graders at Vento committing to changing the world! pic.twitter.com/fN1urTZOF5— @VentoElementary
Bruce Vento is not the first school to nix holiday celebrations in the classroom, of course. Educational institutions in the U.S., the U.K. and Canada have all made headlines in recent years for scrapping such festivities over cultural, emotional, health or safety concerns.
This hasn't stopped those critical of the move from targeting Masini, who took over as Bruce Vento's principal in 2013.
Dozens of blog posts and articles have been published since the school's decision was announced, some bearing headlines like "Who Says Romance is Dead? A St. Paul School" and "Tired of the PC': Elementary School Stops Celebrating Valentines' Day, Christmas, Thanksgiving."
Cheers to @VentoElementary for banning an American culture to appease students whose parents moved here so they could enjoy American culture— @omgitsjfizzy
Some are even likening Masini to South Park's infamous "PC Principal," described by the New York Times as a character who "meets micro-aggression with macro-aggression, bullying kids and adults who, say, refer to the transgender reality star Caitlyn Jenner as anything less than 'stunning and brave.'"
"Once again, life imitates South Park," reads an Opposing Views blog post on Bruce Vento's holiday decision. "The show's 19th season saw the introduction of PC Principal, a preening social justice warrior who polices his students for 'micro-aggressions' like 'otherizing minorities' and 'using words that assert privilege.'"
"Over in St. Paul, Minnesota, students at Bruce Vento Elementary School have a PC Principal of their own: His name is Scott Masini, and he's taken it upon himself to ban so-called 'dominant holidays' like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Halloween and Valentine's Day from the school."
As mainstream news outlets started reporting on the controversy, a spokesperson for the Saint Paul school district echoed what was written in the district's original press release to Fox News.
The spokesperson also noted that their schools include "many, many cultures — students from around the world — including a very large Somali population."
When asked about the controversial holiday policy himself, the school's principal replied that it is "truly not a story."