Late last week, a five-year-old girl came home from Austin's Pease Elementary school with a question for her dad.
"Daddy," she asked her father, "Is Santa real?"
Dad said yes, and wanted to know why his daughter asked.
"Because Mrs. Fuller" -- the girl's afterschool teacher -- "said he wasn't real. She said 'None of you believe in Santa do you?' and said that you and mommy buy all our presents and put them under the tree. She said that you should tell us the truth."
The girl's mother said the whole family was taken off guard. Her daughter had previously attended a Waldorf school, where belief in fairies and other supernatural beings was nurtured.
Not so at her new school, where the teacher reportedly has a partner-in-grinchiness. The mother said another parent told her that a second teacher assigned her students to draw two pictures on a piece of paper, one of something real, and the other of something imaginary. When the student started drawing Santa on the "real" side of the page, the teacher said Saint Nick belonged on the fake side.
The mother says that spoiling Santa is most decidedly not the school's place.
"To break that harsh reality to them in such a brutal way is just wrong," the mom says. "Especially since these kids are five. She is just really getting into Santa."
Or as the mom put it on her Facebook page: "Another adult has no right to submit their own beliefs on a group of 5 year olds and their families - about Santa, God, politics or whatever - especially phrased 'your belief is not right.'" She says another parent spoke for many when he said in an email that circulated among them that it was vital for kids to make those kinds of discoveries on their own, as they matured.
The mom emailed a complaint to the principal, who told he that she has reprimanded the teacher and given her the "tools to deal with this situation" in the future. The mom says that the principal was "horrified" by what the teachers had done, and adds that the is ordinarily wonderful Austin. (The mom likes that unlike so many schools in the capital, this one, located in the middle of town, has an ethnic mix of roughly one-third each of Anglos, Hispanics and African-Americans.)
The girl's parents have been doing some damage control of their own. Over the weekend, mom placed a Polar Express-like antique bell under the tree in the hope that the girl could draw her own conclusions, and later she asked her daughter that she was free to choose to believe whatever she wanted about Santa Claus.
"I want to believe in Santa," the girl replied.
[We've reached out to the principal and will update if and when we hear from her.]