By Albert Lin
The racial identity of Santa Claus remains a contentious topic after a New Mexico high school teacher told a Black ninth-grader that he should not be wearing a Santa hat and beard because "Santa is white."
School officials announced on Friday that the male teacher, whose identity has not been revealed, had been disciplined for the comments, which came last week on a day that students at Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho, N.M., were told they could come to school dressed as Santa, an elf or a reindeer. On Monday, a spokesperson clarified that the teacher had been put on paid administrative leave pending an internal investigation.
The boy's father, Michael Rougier, told several media outlets that the teacher asked his son, Christopher, "Don't you know Santa Claus is white? Why are you wearing that?"
Rougier says no one from the school called to notify them of the incident, and that they had to find out from other parents. The teacher has since spoken to Rougier's wife and apologized. Christopher has been moved to a different classroom at the request of his parents. But Rougier wants stronger action taken.
"[The teacher] needs to be fired," Rougier told KOAT. "For him to make a comment like that, there has to be at a minimum prejudice in him, and we don't have room for that."
Kim Vesely of Rio Rancho Public Schools released the following statement to the media: "This situation involves a teacher recently hired by Cleveland High who made—and admits he made—a stupid mistake. The remark was inappropriate and should not have been made. The teacher feels very badly about what occurred. He self-reported the incident to the principal and has apologized to the student and to the student's parent. Appropriate disciplinary action has been taken."
Rougier said Christopher, who has autism, has lost his Christmas spirit and was not interested in helping to decorate the family tree on Sunday. "[Santa Claus is] Asian, he's Mexican, he's German, whatever country and whatever society that celebrates Christmas like we do. In our family, you got Miss Claus, who is black, and Santa Claus is white. I just want him to be back to the Christopher who was bouncing off the walls about Christmas."
The incident happened the same week that FOX News Channel host Megyn Kelly made headlines by asserting that "Santa is just white." Reaction to that statement has been impassioned and widespread.