I’m wearing a red-and-green checkered velvet dress with a large white lace collar. My face is distorted, fear and excitement and starstruckenness all jumbled into one expression. It is the quintessential 1990s posing-on-Santa’s-lap picture. I’ve got at least six just like it, but this one stands out. It wasn’t snapped at the mall or at a children’s party, but at my public elementary school, where Santa visited once a year for Christmas breakfast.
As I grew older, Christmas parties became Holiday parties, Christmas Break became Holiday Break, and Santa no longer made an appearance at the Holiday Breakfast, not because I was too old for jolly St. Nick, but because my public school had de-Santa-ed.
In a recent incident in Massachusetts, Santa was removed from an elementary school’s annual Christmas concert. Though many have decried Santa removals as examples of the public school system’s rejection of religious freedom, to me, they are reminders of a need for more educational choice.
In a 2014 survey, 49 percent of Missourians reported that if they could choose any type of school for their child, they would choose private or home school. However, only 9 percent are actually enrolled in private school, while home school data is not available. Why do so many parents want to send their children to schools of choice?
For at least some parents, the desire to send their children to a private school reflects a desire to send their children to a school that shares like-minded values. Unfortunately, school choice, in the absence of legislation and financial means, is impossible for many parents, as actual enrollments show.
In the New Year, I hope to see educational choice expanded for families across Missouri, for both Santa believers and non-believers alike.