Let’s talk about the rights of Pagans students at school. As more and more young people discover earth-based spirituality -- and more families are openly raising children as Pagans -- teachers and educators are becoming more aware of the existence of families who are non-Christian.
Elementary School Aged Children
Some parents have faced issues with children being singled out during events at school, either for their beliefs or their lack of them. It is important that you talk to your child’s teacher about any concerns that you have. If you’re not sure what to say, there’s a decent essay available at So You Have A Pagan In Your Classroom that could provide a good jumping-off point for discussion.
One of the most common issues raised is the negative portrayal of witches in schools, particularly around Halloween. First of all, if your school allows the kids to have a Halloween party at all, consider yourself fortunate. Second, understand that the scary images of the green, warty witch who eats small children are rooted in ignorance, rather than willful maliciousness. If you're concerned about the possibility of this negative stereotyping affecting your kids, it's time to have a heart-to-heart chat with your child's teacher. If you don't, it's practically guaranteed that your kindergartner will announce in the middle of the class party, "But my mommy's a witch, and SHE'S not green!"
Communication is the Key
Talking to teachers ahead of time about your concerns -- and not in a defensive manner, but respectfully -- will get you much farther than coming into a classroom screaming because your child brought home a coloring page of a witch with a wart on her nose. At any rate, during your discussion with the teacher, you may wish to gently remind him or her that many Pagan paths are legally recognized as religions, and that stereotypes of any sort are not acceptable in an educational setting.
If your child's school is really open-minded, and is willing to allow a bit of comparative religion education, you might even be allowed to come in and talk to your child's classmates about what it is you believe and do. If you are lucky enough to get permission to do this, it would be advisable to leave out any discussion of magic, and instead focus on other aspects of your path -- reverence for nature, honoring your ancestors, celebrating the cycles of the seasons, etc.
Older Children and Teens
A few cases have made headlines when students, particularly teen girls, were forbidden to wear a pentacle or other Pagan symbol to school. As schools try to enforce a zero-tolerance policy towards behavior which might be considered harmful or gang-related, it’s entirely possible that an educator, simply out of ignorance, might ask your child to remove their jewelry.
If this happens, talk to the teacher, principal, or the school board. Consult a civil rights attorney if you have any questions. Realize that a good deal of people are simply misinformed about modern Pagan religions, and often their concerns come because they don't know any better, not because of any real desire to offend or harm.
If you're not Pagan, but your child is, it's still a good idea to educate yourself about your child's beliefs. This will help you determine if your child is being made the victim of religious discrimination at school. Educators may, especially in the case of teens, assume the child is just "going through a rebellious phase."
It will help your teen to know that they have your support, and that you're willing to stand behind them if there are religion-based conflicts with teachers or school administrators. If you're not sure what exactly it is your child practices or believes, now is as good a time as any to talk to them. Parents should also be sure to read My Parents Don't Want Me to Be Wiccan in the FAQ section, for a little more insight.