Kevin McDonald said Kings Park school teachers removed all religious references from the lyrics of "Silent Night" to avoid offending non-Christians at the Dec. 12 fifth-grade concert held at Ralph J. Osgood Intermediate School.
"Silent Night at its core is a religious song. It's a sacred, religious hymn that tells the story of Jesus's birth," McDonald said at the Dec. 17 Board of Education meeting.
Superintendent Susan Agruso and R.J.O Intermediate School principal Rudy Massimo said the chorus director had pulled out lines of the song with the most religious meaning, as "the chorale director thought it was an appropriate way to represent the song without offending those of other faiths."
"The non-religious words were cobbled together to create something resembling the song and something that would probably pass public scrutiny regarding the separation of church and state," McDonald said. "It should have been off limits."
Watch: Video of R.J.O.'s fifth-grade chorus performs Altered Silent Night.
A YouTube video of the performance shows how the chorale director edited "Silent Night" to remove lines of religious significance, but did not replace or edit lyrics with other words.
Massimo said it is not uncommon for the chorale director to edit songs for performance in a concert, most often for length if the selected piece is too long.
"The harmony piece of the song was something we were working with and we wanted our children to experience that part of the song," Massimo said. "Moving forward, we will be more cautious of the songs that we choose."
Both Agruso and Massimo stressed that no disrespect was intended by the song's selection or changes made. The superintendent did acknowledge, however, that several community members were offended.
"I apologize for that, it’s the last thing anybody intended. Going forward, it’s not going to happen again. They will be more cautious and cognizant of this particular issue when they select a song," Agruso said. "They meant nothing wrong. Clearly we could have done something different, and in the future we will."
McDonald suggested rather than having altered the lyrics to "Silent Night" perhaps the piece could have been instrumentally played by the band or the orchestra, leaving listeners to fill in the lyrics if they desired."I do believe the song should not have been sung the way it was. It wasn't done to purposefully disrespect anyone, but I believe we need to look into doing it differently," said Marie Goldstein, president of the Board of Education.
Board members said they would have further conversations on this issue and re-examine how the district approves songs selected by its performance groups.
Parents at the Dec. 17 board meeting requested to be publicly informed of outcome of that board discussion and what, if any, changes will be made to the district's oversight of future performances.
Did you attend R.J.O Intermediate School concert and have thoughts on the altered Silent Night? Should songs be altered to keep a "separation of church and state"?
Tell us in the comments below.