A pair of Vancouver sixth–graders are speaking out after their elementary school refused to include Jewish symbols as part of its holiday decorations because of their religious nature.
"I don't feel like everybody is being recognized in the way that they should be," said 11-year-old Maya Sontz, who attends General Gordon Elementary in the city's West Side.
Maya and her classmate, Rebecca Weinberg, wanted to put up Hanukkah-themed decorations such as the menorah alongside the Christmas trees and wreaths at the school.
"I have nothing against Christmas. I just think they should add more Hanukkah and other religions," Rebecca told CTV News. "I would really like to feel represented."
Maya's mother, Sheila Sontz, said she also asked the principal, Hope Sterling, to include some Hanukkah songs during the school's Christmas concert, which will take place during the Jewish holiday this year.
"I was absolutely shocked to get a reply that there was to be no Hanukkah decorations in the school, no menorahs, because she considered them to be religious objects," Sheila said.
General Gordon does have trees, wreaths and other Christmas paraphernalia up throughout the school.
While these are linked to a Christian tradition, Sterling said holiday celebrations taking place at the school will be non-religious. Songs at the Christmas concert will be about reindeer and Santa Claus, and the Christmas tree, she argued, is not a religious symbol, but a cultural one.
Sheila said that no matter the rationale, excluding one culture in favour of another goes against the school’s policy of inclusivity.
"We're a very multicultural society and my daughter has friends of every shape, size, culture and she loves them all equally," she said.
Those friends have been “really supportive,” Maya said.
"They think that you should either have no religion showing in the school…or you should include everybody, and I really like that," she said.
The Vancouver School Board says that's exactly the kind of attitude it promotes.
"We try to encourage schools to make sure that all of the cultures and celebrations are recognized," said school board associate, Nancy Brennan.
How individual schools treat cultural and religious symbols, however, is ultimately up to them.
"I'm no expert in terms of cultural symbols and representations, so I wouldn't want to be making those decisions at the district level for schools in terms of what's appropriate or not," she said.
Maya and Rebecca, however, say all they’re asking for is the recognition they feel every culture and religion deserves.
"It is called a public school, so if you're going to invite everybody, you've sort of got to include everybody," Maya said.
With files from CTV Vancouver's Shannon Paterson