School board apologizes over pro-environment Christmas pageant in oil town

OXBOW, Sask. — A school board in southeastern Saskatchewan, where many people work in the energy industry, is apologizing after some parents took offence to a Christmas play with an environmental theme.

Last Thursday, children at Oxbow Prairie Horizons School put on a play called “Santa Goes Green,” where elves, reindeer and Mrs. Claus work to convince Santa about the importance of the environment.

One song in particular, “Turn Off the Pump,” prompted angry reactions on social media from parents who said the song targeted them and others in the small community.

The director of education for the South East Cornerstone Public School Division says in a statement that it’s sorry “some of the content was found to be disrespectful” to some members of the school community.

Lynn Little says staff chose the play because there was an opportunity for all children to participate, noting the music was “peppy” and there was a belief they would enjoy performing the songs.

Little says the overall theme focused on recycling and sustainability and the children should be recognized for their efforts.

“At no point was there meant to be a political agenda or an anti-oil and gas industry message,” Little said in a statement.

“The concert is a staple of the community and is a celebration of children. It is an annual community highlight.”

According to the school’s Facebook page, the play was written by Mac Huff and John Jacobson. Photo art shows Santa in a green suit and Rudolph with a white, compact fluorescent bulb for a nose.

The play has been performed by numerous schools across North America and many of performances are posted on YouTube.

“Turn off the pump and plug in the sleigh, it’s going to be a green holiday,” children sing at the beginning of a song in one online performance.

Further on, children sing: “Nothing at all could this holiday spoil, except for the price of a barrel of oil.

“On this Christmas Eve we’ll give it our all, and juice up the sleigh with pure ethanol.”

The logo on the Town of Oxbow website features an oil pumpjack, and the site notes it’s an area rich in oil.

The Canadian Press sent messages to several people who said online that they were upset with the play, but did not receive comment.

“Considering the state of our industry, it was a kick in the groin to those who are employed by it,” one person posted to Facebook a day after seeing the play.

“Not the kids fault … they smiled and sang and had fun, and the audience was respectful and applauded, but jaw dropping, and hypocritical of the school to allow that, considering all the diesel school buses and all the financial support the school gets from oil industry related people & businesses.”

Some people online also complained that there were picketing penguins in the play. They pointed out that there aren’t penguins at the North Pole.

The school’s principal, Jason Petlak, forwarded inquiries to the school board.

The statement from Little said the school board “will learn from this event and commit to moving forward.”

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