Medina Elementary School's phone lines were lighting up Tuesday with calls from people upset or pleased that the school had removed a metal...

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Medina Elementary School’s phone lines were lighting up Tuesday with calls from people upset or pleased that the school had removed a metal “giving tree” after a parent complained about its religious connotations.

Paper mittens hung from the lighted, spiral-shaped tree, each with gift ideas attached that students could use as a wish list to purchase toys and other items for needy children.

“The school has been hearing from people on both sides of the issue,” said Ann Oxrieder, district spokeswoman. “The kids are staying busy with the project. They haven’t let this interfere with getting presents for other kids. It’s the adults that are having a problem with this.”

After the ornamental tree was removed on Monday, the mittens were moved to a nearby counter in the school office area so the gift-giving would not be impeded, said Christine Metzger, officer manager at the school.

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“[The tree] offended someone, so we removed it,” Metzger said.

The giving tree was organized by the Community Kids program, and the gifts are going to needy students from the Lake Hills area in Bellevue.

Bellevue School District policy bans religious ornamentation unless it supports curricular goals, Oxrieder said. The policy does not ban Christmas trees specifically, but they are not encouraged, Oxrieder said.

“Decorations for the sake of decoration is out,” she said. “If it supports curriculum, it’s OK.”

The district’s main office also is currently hosting a toy drive, but the gift drop-off area is decorated like a child’s bedroom, she said.

“It’s to inspire a spirit of giving in the employee community. If [students] chose to do this, we always thought that was a nice thing to do,” Oxrieder said.

“But we have a diverse community here. More than 60 languages are spoken, and we have families who are Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist, who represent every ethnic group. We don’t want to single out one religious group.”

The district has not had a problem with holiday decorations since the decoration policy was approved in 1980, she said.

Rachel Tuinstra: 206-515-5637 or rtuinstra@seattletimes.com