A teacher's aide in a Rockville elementary school plucked a Chrismas tree from a school office and hurled it into the parking lot while several pupils watched, school officials and parents confirmed yesterday.
Witnesses said the aide is Jewish and objected to a Christian display inside the public school building.
Principal Howard Graves of Rock Creek Valley Elementary School said no disciplinary action would be taken against the teacher's aide as a result of the incident that occurred Friday afternoon.
"The tree is back in the office, and that is where we stand," Graves said. "It is something in the school we want to work out, and we will work out."
Several students interviewed yesterday said the incident was the principal topic of discussion at the school and had sparked some anti-Semitic remarks from other students.
The teacher's aide reportedly had just returned from a weeklong field trip to Summit Lake near Thurmont, Md., with the sixth grade class when she spotted the lights on a small, artificial evergreen twinkling through the window of the administrative office. a
"Imagine coming back very tired and having strong feelings about the separation of church and state at this time of year and seeing that tree," Graves said.
Witnesses said the school employe, 55-year-old Ann Every, strode into the office, picked up the tree, carried it outside and threw it into the staff parking lot. Students yesterday showed visitors strands of tinsel in the bushes next to the building and described their efforts to collect fallen ornaments and return them and the tree to the office.
Every refused to discuss the matter yesterday, but her husband, Allen, said: "She did what she did because she thought she was right. There is a very simple statement in the Constitution calling for the separation of church and state. That's at the crux of this whole business.
"Anyone who puts up Christian or Hebrew decorations in a school is in violation of that. We are not a Christian society. We are not a Hebrew society. We are not a Moslem society. Most people who are not Christians find this time of year very traumatic. The whole business of Christians equating Hanukah and Christmas when they have no relationship is traumatic."
A representative of the Montgomery County school board's human relations committee said the teacher's aide "thought Christmas was being given preference, while actually there was going to be a balance."
The representative explained that the school planned to celebrate Hanukah, a relatively minor Jewish festival that began Friday evening, as well as Christmas, which is one of the most sacred of Christian holy days.
"Everyone's talking about it," said one 10-year-old. "She shouldn't have done that."
Another fifth grader said Jewish children in the school are upset because other students "are saying, 'Oh, look at the Jews. They always do things like that.'"