A Jewish family in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, did not flee their home after being falsely blamed for an elementary school's canceled Christmas play, despite media reports to the contrary.
Actually, they just went on vacation.
The story of the family fleeing stems from Centerville Elementary School's cancellation of its 5th grade production of A Christmas Carol. Last week, local TV station WHTM reported that the play was canceled after receiving complaints from two parents about the line, "God bless us, every one.”
The story was subsequently picked up by a number of outlets including Fox News, which began its headline with the word "SCROOGE!" in all caps, and alt-right website Breitbart.
Then Thursday, the story seemingly escalated further when local news website Lancaster Online reported that a Jewish family "fled the county in fear because it’s being blamed for the cancellation." The newspaper's story did not name the family, but claimed to have spoken to them and reported that the parents became fearful and left town after seeing reaction to the Breitbart and Fox stories.
A slew of other outlets picked up the story, including Slate, PennLive, the Huffington Post, and others.
However, the Anti-Defamation League tracked down the family and discovered that they did not, in fact, flee. According to a statement released Thursday evening, "ADL investigated, and found that in actuality, the family left on vacation for winter break." The statement goes on to call reports that the family fled "untrue and damaging."
BuzzFeed News reached out to both Lancaster Online and the ADL for additional clarification about the family's comments. In response, Lancaster Online sent BuzzFeed News an updated story Friday morning that included an editor's note. The note states that the family "removed their child from class over concerns for their and their child’s safety."
The note also states that Lancaster Online stands by its original reporting, though the story no longer described the family has having "fled," instead referring to ADL's statement about the family going on vacation.
The ADL did not respond to BuzzFeed News' request for comment.
Reports that the play was canceled due to the line "God bless us, every one" also appear to be false. In a fact sheet released Wednesday, Hempfield School District — of which Centerville Elementary is a part — said that no one actually complained about the play, nor were there any religious issues raised. Instead, some "questions" arose about the play's "processes and procedures" and the decision to cancel it was made because it was taking up too much of the students' time.
"The decision was made due to the amount of instructional time that this non-curricular activity had grown to require," the fact sheet explains of the play's cancellation.
In the days since the news reports, Hempfield School District has been inundated with responses to the decision to cancel the play.
"Since the story was publicized nationally," the school said in its fact sheet, "we’ve received at least 200 or so emails/phone calls either supporting the decision, asking questions to gather additional information, or objecting to the decision."