What was supposed to be a cheerful day at a New Mexico high school quickly went downhill when a teacher told a black student that he shouldn’t dress up as Santa Claus because the jolly old man is white.
Officials at Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho, New Mexico say the unnamed teacher has been disciplined – though they won’t say how. But the student’s family is not satisfied; the boy’s father, Michael Rougier, is calling for the teacher to be fired.
The incident occurred last week when ninth-grader Christopher Rougier came to school in a Santa costume. Although students were allowed to dress up as holiday characters, Christopher’s father, Michael Rougier, told local KOB-TV that his son’s teacher said, "Don't you know Santa Clause is white? Why are you wearing that?"
The student was reportedly crushed by the comments, and Michael Rougier says the teacher’s question was unacceptable.
"There's no room for that in the classroom," he said. "Whether this teacher felt Christopher may have been wearing this out of context, there's no room for it. There's just no room for it."
The school’s spokeswoman told the Associated Press that the teacher has called the family to apologize for the incident. The teacher reportedly acknowledged that he made a “stupid mistake.”
"The remark was inappropriate and should not have been made. The teacher feels very badly about what occurred," district spokeswoman Kim Vesely told AP. "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."
While Christopher has been removed from the teacher’s class at the family's request, his father does not think the apology goes far enough.
"[The teacher] needs to be fired," Rougier said in an interview with KOAT News. "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."
The skin color of Santa Claus has been a surprising point of controversy in the United States over the past week. After writer Aisha Harris penned a column for Slate titled, “Santa Claus Should Not Be a White Man Anymore,” Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly targeted the piece for her own commentary.
“When I saw this headline, I kinda laughed and I said, ‘Oh, this is so ridiculous. Yet another person claiming it's racist to have a white Santa,’” she said on the air. “And by the way, for all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white.”
“Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn't mean it has to change. You know, I mean, Jesus was a white man, too,” Kelly added later.
Her comments sparked a wave of outrage in the media as well as online, where people pointed out that Santa Claus is a fictional character and that Jesus, a Middle Eastern Jew, would not have been white, either.
Kelly defended herself on Friday, December 13, stating that her comments were meant to be light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek.