Montgomery Co. Schools Received Harsh Emails After Removing Religious Holidays From Calendar

Montgomery County Public Schools administrators received a torrent of critical emails and letters from across the country in the hours after the district announced it would remove references to religious holidays from next year’s school calendar. Some of the emails included profanity and many accused the district of bowing to “political correctness.”

A collection of several dozen emails, obtained by the I-Team through a public records request, show a large majority of the emails received by school administrators expressed disapproval of the district’s decision. The school board president said some of the language used was vitriolic and offensive.

Montgomery County’s school board voted Nov. 11 to approve district superintendent Joshua Starr’s plan to eliminate all holiday references from the 2015-16 school calendar, amid criticism the district closed schools for Jewish holidays but not Muslim holidays. A district spokeswoman said the elimination of holiday references clarified that schools are closed only for concern of large-scale absenteeism, not for religious reasons.

One of the emails, sent two days after the district’s announcement, said “Erase Christmas? Are you a mental midget or just plain stupid?”

Another, sent directly to Starr, said, “You’re the worst kind of person there is.”

A woman who said she was the mother of a Montgomery County fifth-grader wrote, “Shame on you. Shame on your cowardice.”

A number of emails obtained by the I-Team, all of which were sent to school board members or administrators, were written by people from out of state. A Florida man wrote, “You should be voted out of office or fired or worse. If I lived in your district I would conduct a holy endeavor to put you out of office.” Another wrote, “Get the hell out of my country. You don’t deserve to be an American.” Several others used the phrase “idiots” or “cowards.”

Montgomery County School Board President Pat O’Neill said the emails reviewed by the I-Team show a lack of civility among some of the district’s residents and those who send letters and notes to school boards. O’Neill said,

“If people actually read aloud what they wrote, would they really have hit ‘send?’” O’Neil said. “Some of it was really personal attacks. It was truly stunning.”

O’Neill characterized some of the emails as threatening.

School spokesman Dana Tofig said no extra security was ordered for the superintendent or district headquarters in Rockville.

“Many of the emails and phone calls we received were very disturbing, but most were from outside of Montgomery County and Maryland and were not cause for alarm,” Tofig said.

The I-Team also found a handful of supportive emails from county residents. One urged administrators to “stick to their guns.” Another said, “I fully support the board’s decision.”

The emails and letters also included criticisms written in courteous language. Don Dennison, a Montgomery County resident who practices law in Alexandria, told administrators their decision was needless political correctness. In a later interview with the I-Team, Dennison said, “I don’t often write public officials, but I felt strongly about this one.”

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