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    Santa breaks rule, makes deal

    After years of trying, a Clearwater High School senior is allowed to dress as the jolly old elf for a morning.

    [Times photo: Andrea Bruce Woodall]
    Chris Barrett, 17, has gotten in trouble for wearing a Santa suit to Clearwater High School. This year, he was allowed to wear it Tuesday morning, including to chorus class, where he worked with Amanda Johns, 16, left, and Heather Offutt, 17.


    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 20, 2000

    CLEARWATER -- In his freshman year, Santa received detention.

    In his sophomore and junior years, he was forced to trade his red suit for street clothes.

    But in his senior year, he made a deal with the Grinch.

    Chris Barrett, a senior at Clearwater High School, was finally allowed to wear his Santa suit to school Tuesday, ending what had become a Clearwater High Christmas tradition of dodging and discipline.

    It began four years ago, when Barrett tried to establish his own holiday tradition by donning a red hat and suit to spread Christmas cheer on the last day before the holiday break.

    "My teachers liked it," Barrett said. "Everybody got a kick out of it."

    Not everybody.

    There is a code of conduct, administrators said. No costumes.

    "Santa didn't follow the rules," said Principal Nickolas Grasso, also known as Grasso the Grinch to some on campus. "Santa needed to follow procedures at Clearwater High."

    But that's all in Christmas past. On Tuesday, Grasso said he invited Barrett to wear his Santa suit to school so he could help load gifts students donated to needy bay area children. Though Barrett never got around to helping with the gifts, he got to wear his outfit until noon. After lunch, he changed into his regular clothes.

    So why the change from years past?

    "In the spirit of the holiday and knowing Chris, we felt it was appropriate," Grasso said.

    It also may be that the Christmas spirit finally caught up with Grasso.

    He received a lot of grief when he sent Santa to detention. The story was picked up by television news affiliates and broadcast across the country. Even his own son questioned his move.

    "You can't lock Santa up," said Frankie Grasso, then 6.

    His son was on to something. Despite detention and being pulled out of class, Santa was likely to show up in his red suit again this year. "It's just kind of fun breaking the rules," Barrett said.

    But the rules are in place for a reason, Grasso said. For example, as soon as Barrett walked into his chorus class Tuesday, two of his friends sat on his lap. During a medley of holiday songs, he put his arms around two more and rocked from side to side.

    "I think it's perfectly okay," said Heather Offutt, 17, shrugging off the suggestion that Barrett's costume is distracting. "It's Christmas."

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