Kings Park school officials removed religious references from "Silent Night" before a student concert to avoid offending non-Christians.
But the change upset others and led the district to apologize.
Kevin McDonald, a member of St. Joseph's parish in Kings Park whose son was in the orchestra for the Dec. 12 concert, said officials failed to recognize the song's significance.
" 'Silent Night' at its core is a religious song. It's a sacred Christian hymn that tells the story about the birth of Jesus," McDonald said at Tuesday night's Kings Park Board of Education meeting. "What was performed was inappropriate and disrespectful to the Christian faith."
Superintendent Susan Agruso said Ralph J. Osgood Intermediate School Principal Rudy Massimo and the choral director removed the most significant religious lines "to represent the song without offering offense to people of other faith."
"The nonreligious words from multiple verses were then cobbled together to create something resembling the song, and something that would probably pass public scrutiny for separation of church and state," said McDonald. He said the version sung by fifth-grade students omitted the words "Holy infant," "Christ the Savior" and "Jesus, Lord, at thy birth," among other lyrics.
"We do have some members of our community who did take offense," Agruso said. "I apologize for that, because that was the last thing that anybody intended . . . and going forward it's not going to happen again."
Massimo said about 150 fifth-grade students also performed the school anthem, as well as "When the Saints Go Marching In," "Mistletoe" and "Bashana Haba'a"-- a Hebrew song.
Massimo said he understood McDonald's concerns. "It's a beautiful song, and we wanted the children to experience it. I apologize for the disrespect that was there. We meant nothing by it," he said at the board meeting. "We are going to be more cautious of the songs that we choose."