Some Anderson High School parents claim AISD discouraged them from carrying out the choir's annual holiday caroling because of the Christmas references in songs. Those parents even reached out to a conservative values group. AISD says this is a big misunderstanding.
In Northwest Austin, Anderson High School students spread holiday cheer with their annual caroling project. Choir members visit homes by invitation only and perform a private concert.
"Most of it is classical in nature, they add in a sleigh ride, a Hanukah song, something so that everybody has an interest in the holiday concert," Anderson High School Principal Donna Houser said.
It's also a fundraiser. Choir students collect donations to pay for meals during UIL competitions.
As AHS Principal Donna Houser explains, the caroling didn't happen this year.
"Two weeks ago we had it planned. It was on the calendar. We announced it to the community that we would be coming and could they please sign up for the kids to come and carol. So they did, we a lot of people, we had a big list of people that we were going to visit and the ice storm came," Houser said.
The district cancelled all events.
Ever since, a controversy has brewed. A parent of one of the choir students contacted the Liberty Institute alleging the district was trying to silence the group because of their religious songs.
"It was absolutely clear that a representative from the school district was discouraging the caroling project that these choir students have been a part of and it was very clear because of the Christmas and religious nature of the songs," said Jonathan Saenz, Liberty Institute.
Houser says it's a misunderstanding.
Earlier this school year someone did complain.
"We were kind of surprised. It's the first time we've had someone complain at all," Houser said.
The district contacted Houser to investigate.
"No one said we could not do it," Houser said. "They just wanted to make sure that all the parameters were in place to demonstrate fully that the district wasn't endorsing any religion. It wasn't endorsing one religion. It just was neutral on the whole thing."
Houser says the district had another concern about donations. It was suggested that the choir deposit funds with a non-profit to make sure the money was evenly distributed so that a student who participates doesn't benefit more than one who doesn't. Houser complied.
Jonathan Saenz of the Liberty Institute sees a problem with that.
"The fact that they're admitting they tried to push this choir to do something different which they were not required to do tells us it's a part of this overall discouragement that's been happened and we know for a fact it's the Christmas nature of the songs and the religious nature of the songs," Saenz said.
Saenz sent a letter to the district urging compliance.
Read the letter here: http://blog.libertyinstitute.org/2013/12/anderson-high-school-choir-members.html
Houser assures parents that the she never tried to stop the caroling and in fact fought to make sure it would occur.
"We'll do it in the future. Hopefully we won't get ice next time," said Houser.