UPDATE: 10 a.m. Dec. 8, 2023: The Cedar Rapids Community School District changed the wording of its post to say “in addition to” instead of “in lieu of” a holiday gift, and after nearly 90 comments and 55 shares, limited comments on its Facebook post and posted a response regarding the intent of the request for donations to its foundation, noted at the end of this article. The foundation’s executive director also commented on the response, added below:

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — A Facebook post asking that donations be made in a staff member’s name to the Cedar Rapids Community Schools Foundation, rather than giving that person a holiday gift, was not exactly welcomed with Christmas cheer.

“This holiday season, the Cedar Rapids Community School Foundation invites you to recognize and thank a district staff member for their important contributions to our students and schools. Instead of a holiday gift, donate to the foundation in that staff member’s name! The staff member you chose will receive a card announcing your generous donation in their name,” the Dec. 7 post, on the Cedar Rapids Community School District’s Facebook page reads, in part.

“Plus, all the donations go back into our schools to help pay for class field trips, classroom/teacher supplies, extracurricular activity fees for students in need, and professional development opportunities. Visit www.crcsf.com or scan the QR code to thank a staff member today!” the post continues.

Seven hours after it was posted, the post had received nearly 50 comments — mostly negative — and more than 25 shares, with comments such as, “This is ridiculous! Gift those teachers!!!”

One person, who teaches in another state, replied to the post stating: “I can definitely say a personal note, handmade gift, classroom supplies, gift cards, or really anything else would be appreciated over this. It is like saying…Here let me give an under appreciated, overworked, under paid, a card saying we donated to something that is probably not meeting any of those needs. Send your teacher a personal thank you note and they may keep it forever. Heck send them a mug over this.
Sincerely all the passionate and tired teachers of America.”

Another commented about the post’s aim, saying: “This pretty much sums up how very little these teachers are appreciated. Can’t believe the district would post something basically saying, “Forget about the teachers, give us your money.”

“Or give teachers their Christmas gifts because they’re overworked, underpaid, and sometimes a gift and a thank you card (from the student) is enough to get them through the rest of the year!!!!” another person replied.

“This idea is horrible. Teachers are underpaid and overworked. Who approved this idea? The ones who approved it have not spent 40 hours a week with 20 first graders. Come on Cedar Rapids Community School District be better than that.”

A former district teacher replied, saying “please gift those teachers a gift instead of this. This feels so insincere and once again, blind to the needs of and care for teachers.”

One parent called the request “definitely tone deaf.”

“I am okay with trusting some organizations to use my gift as needed, but not CRCSD,” she wrote. “They weren’t forthcoming about how a multi-million bond would actually fund their pet projects within the district; I certainly wouldn’t trust them to direct my donated funds appropriately. That they are asking us to donate in this manner when they haven’t before is just so strange. I will continue giving my child’s personal educators gifts and providing classroom needs as I always have.”

Justin Schaefer, Interim Director of Communications, pointed to the district’s reply to the comments, posted the morning of Dec. 8:

“Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Our intention in promoting the option of making a donation to the Cedar Rapids Schools Foundation in the name of a teacher or staff member was to just share a unique and alternative way to support and thank our school staff during the holiday season,” the comment stated. “We understand the importance of acknowledging the hard work of our teachers, and we want to ensure that everyone feels appreciated. We are always exploring alternative ways to express gratitude to not only teachers but ALL school staff.”

Karen Swanson, Executive Director of the Cedar Rapids Community Schools Foundation, said she initially saw the concept posted in a schools foundation newsletter, from the Cocalico School District, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Swanson said she overlooked the “in lieu of” wording that came from the Cedar Rapids School District, but added “we take full responsibility for that.”

While the foundation did not survey teachers, she said, they have noticed an increase in its staff recognition program, in which more personnel reaching milestone years opt to donate to the foundation in lieu of receiving another school district hoodie or coffee mug.

“Gifts to that program have exploded,” she said, citing $1,000 annually in recent years. “They acknowledge that a gift to the foundation will benefit their entire classroom.”

Swanson said the donations are intended to recognize bus drivers, school secretaries and other staff members, in addition to teachers, and said she is willing to listen to anyone regarding the donation program.

“We thought this would be a really good thing,” said Swanson, a 1985 Jefferson High School graduate. “We thought people would embrace this. As an alumnus, this makes me sad.”

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The Cedar Rapids Community School District’s headquarters, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, includes a “recognition plaza.” (photo/Cindy Hadish)