December 23, 2016
The Anti-Defamation League is attempting to set the record straight on conflicting reports about a story out of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, concerning a Jewish family and a canceled Christmas play.
The controversy began when Centerville Elementary School decided to nix the fifth grade's annual production of "A Christmas Carol."
In a letter explaining why the play was canceled, Principal Tom Kramer said he was aware of "rumors circulating" about the decision. Kramer said in the Dec. 15 letter that the fifth grade could not commit the 15-20 hours a week needed to produce the play.
However, Kramer also said the decision came after school officials "heard from families on both ends of the spectrum," adding the "decision is rooted in the desire to be respectful of the many cultural and religious backgrounds represented by the students attending Centerville Elementary."
A local news report cited parents who believed the play was canceled because other parents objected to the "God bless us, every one" phrase in the play. The story was picked up by Fox News and conservative aggregation site Breitbart.
In a follow-up statement, the school attempted to clarify that the play was "absolutely not" canceled because of the "God bless us" phrase. The school also said there was no complaint filed, and that the decision had nothing to do with religious concerns.
LancasterOnline then published a story citing an anonymous Jewish family who said their child was harassed because and blamed for the play being canceled. The family said they did ask that their child be pulled out of the play, but never complained about the school performing "A Christmas Carol."
According to the news outlet, the family said they were concerned about reader comments on the Breitbart story calling for the publication of their address.
The LancasterOnline story said the family has pulled their child from Centerville Elementary School out of fear and "fled" the county.
On Thursday evening, the ADL released a statement saying it had spoken to the family, and the report they had fled was "untrue." Instead, according to the ADL, the family was going on a previously planned vacation.
"Stories like this can sow fear in the Jewish community and beyond, and it is important to stop the spread of misinformation," said ADL regional director Nancy Baron-Baer.
LancasterOnline updated its original story in response to the ADL statement, saying the outlet stood by its original reporting and could not reach the anonymous family for additional comment.
Breitbart also responded to "left-wing clickbait" that they said blamed them for targeting the Jewish family.
"By any plain reading, we gave absolutely no information that singled out this particular family — or any identifiable family — as the reason for the canceled play," Breitbart's Ezra Dulis wrote. "And we did not provide any information that could be used to identify them or facilitate any harassment."