(Photo: Reuters/Gary Hershorn)
An African-American high school student in New Mexico was left distraught after a teacher told him he can't dress up as Santa Claus because Santa is white. School officials have apologized and called it a "stupid mistake."
"This situation involves a teacher recently hired by Cleveland High who made – and admits he made – a stupid mistake," said Kim Vesely, the director of Rio Rancho Public Schools, in a statement. "The remark was inappropriate and should not have been made. The teacher feels very badly about what occurred. 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."
The incident at Cleveland High School concerning freshman Christopher Rougier reportedly occurred last week during a school holiday dress-up day, according to CNN affiliate KOAT. His father, Michael, revealed that his son was "embarrassed" by the situation and now doesn't want anything to do with Christmas.
"He needs to be fired," Rougier said about the teacher. "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 father added that the teacher later called his wife to apologize for what happened, but that doesn't excuse the situation.
The freshman's family has asked that their son be removed from that teacher's class, a request which has been granted.
The incident comes just days after Fox News host Megyn Kelly sparked a debate on Santa when she responded on air to an op-ed in Slate, which suggested that the idea of Santa as a white man needs to be abandoned.
"I kind of laughed and I said this is ridiculous. Yet another person claiming it's racist to have a white Santa," the Fox News host responded.
"Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn't mean it has to change. Jesus was a white man too. It's like we have, he's a historical figure that's a verifiable fact, as is Santa, I just want kids to know that."
Her comments both on Jesus and Santa being white have been criticized by social commentators, with Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth author Reza Aslan pointing out that the historical Jesus was Galilean, and he would have looked like what the average Palestinian looks today.
Comedy Central hosts Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart also took aim at Kelly's comments on their respective shows, with Stewart reminding viewers on "The Daily Show" that the real-life Saint Nicholas on which Santa is based on hailed from a region that is today modern-day Turkey, which would also challenge the assertion that Santa is white.