Cuyahoga Falls elementary school principals have put into action a way to solve a problem that’s been building for years by changing the way their schools treat parties centered around religious holidays, said Superintendent Todd Nichols.

“In general, we’re focusing on inclusivity in all of our schools,” Nichols said, referring specifically to holidays such as Christmas, Halloween, and St. Valentine’s Day, and adding not all students can participate in celebrations based on religious holidays.

“With the growing diversity in our community, there are a number of kids who can’t participate,” he said and explained Friday’s celebration of Valentine’s Day has been shifted to a week-long celebration of kindness, “instead of just a single event at the end of the week on Friday.”

But there will also be “Friendship Parties” on Friday.

The change was announced last week by Richardson Elementary School in a social media post that resulted in a lot of negative comments, Nicholls said.

On its Facebook Page, the school explained the shift.

“Our intention is to hold celebrations and activities that are inclusive of all students. School-wide and classroom celebrations will continue to be held recognizing Black Tiger Pride, academically-focused accomplishments, and milestone moments,” the post states.

Richardson PTO President Alecia Coco posted her organization’s view, stating this year’s goals are inclusion, communication, and education.

“We understand the frustration that the policies handed down from the district this week have caused much of our parent commUNITY. We also see the place from where the district was coming from,” she said. “There are many emotions running high on what some may see as a very silly thing to be upset over, and others see as the place to plant their flag of indignation. We would like to turn our focus on what brings us TOGETHER here at Richardson, and what makes this commUNITY so special.”

Many on social media questioned the shift.

“When I was in school and my children were in school it was so much fun to anticipate the classroom parties,” wrote one parent. “Christmas, Halloween, Valentines Day and Easter. Each classroom had two room mothers and they provided cut out cookies or a cupcake that pertained to that holiday and the schools provided the small boxes of milk. Not that much money went into that but with the party games that we played and the gift exchange at Christmas and the Valentine cards on Valentine’s Day and costumes at Halloween it was all so much fun!”

Nichols said the principals have for years been considering the problems they face when students cannot participate in traditional parties because of their religious beliefs, including the fact that the schools are required by law to provide equal accommodations to all students.

He noted that this year elementary schools had “winter celebrations” instead of Christmas parties because “some kids and families — they just couldn’t participate.”

It’s not just the district’s growing immigrant community who had been left out, he said.

“We have Christian families who do not want to participate in Halloween because it is a pagan holiday. We have Jehovah’s Witnesses who can’t participate in any of them,” he said.

Eric Marotta can be reached at 330-541-9433 or emarotta@recordpub.com.