Ashley Coughenour loves creating Christmas memories for her children.
As Fox 8 News in Cleveland reports, Ashley and her Mentor, Ohio, family always get into the Christmas spirit. The children love helping gather donations for the Salvation Army. And the family continues the tradition of Santa, believing that it helps teach children about Christmas and generosity.
So when third-grader Ella Coughenour came home from Sterling Morton Elementary School distressed about what her substitute teacher had said about Christmas, Ashley was aghast.
Ella and her classmates had been excited to show their substitute teacher the classroom Elf on the Shelf. But the teacher’s response threw cold water on their enthusiasm. In the video below, Ashley told Fox 8 her daughter broke down when she got home from school that day:
“[Ella] immediately just broke into tears. And she said that the teacher told her that Santa Claus isn’t real, Christmas isn’t real, and Christmas elves aren’t real. It’s all made up.”
Ashley was furious that the substitute chose to destroy the magic of Christmas for a group of 9-year-olds:
“I was angry. I was heartbroken. Because that was taken away from my daughter. And it hurt.”
The school acted quickly to address the issue. The principal called each parent in the class and explained what had happened, then apologized for the teacher’s behavior. She also said the substitute would not work at their school again.
The school district even released a statement to Fox 8 making it clear that official denials of Santa Claus are not district policy:
We sincerely apologize that this happened in one of our classrooms. We agree it is not appropriate for anyone working in our schools with our young children to make comments regarding their personal beliefs about the authenticity of Santa Claus. Any such comment would be made in extremely poor taste.
The husband of the teacher reportedly claims the students may have misunderstood her comments. And another mom posting about the incident on Facebook suggested that the teacher tried to fix things after the fact. But it appears the damage was done. As that mom wrote to Santa Claus Writes (a company that offers letters from Santa):
A substitute teacher decided to take it upon herself and tell the class that Elves, Santa and Christmas in general was all a lie. The teacher did some damage control upon returning but there’s a few kiddos that are still very sad and confused and a little unsure. Anyway you can reassure these little ones? Charles Lundy and Ella Coughenour are two that need some help to believe.
While one man responded that a school shouldn’t be expected to “back up the lie” of Santa Claus, other parents insisted that they — not teachers — are the ones to decide what the family believes and what their traditions will be.
“Santa” also responded to the post, promising he would try to mention the class in a future video.
Ashley told Fox 8 that she still doesn’t understand the teacher’s actions:
“I just want to know why. Why she took it upon herself to do that. Why she felt it was OK to shatter a childhood — anybody’s childhood.”