Most schools keep Zwarte Piet as-is; A third say racism debate irrelevant

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Most schools in the Netherlands will be keeping Zwarte Piet in his traditional appearance during the Sinterklaas celebrations this year and in the years to come. About 34 percent of respondents find the racism debate surrounding the Sinterklaas helper not a concern for their own organizations, with 32 percent saying they do not find the character discriminatory, a survey of teachers by general education association AOb revealed on Tuesday.

About one-fourth of those saying their schools will not make changes say it is to maintain the tradition. The survey was sent to 25 thousand AOb members, and more than four thousand responded.

Roughly 65 percent of respondents indicated that their schools will not be making any adjustments to Zwarte Piet's appearance in the near future. The survey found that Roman Catholic schools in particular steadfastly refuse to modify the look of Zwarte Piet, which traditionally requires chocolate-colored face paint with big red lips, black curly hair and big golden hoop earrings.

About 31 percent said their schools are modifying the controversial character's appearance over time, of which most are doing so because to keep up with developments in the Netherlands. Still, only ten percent indicated that they are doing so because Zwarte Piet is considered discriminatory.

The most common changes to Zwarte Piet's appearance is to use black smudges to more closely resemble ash, which 24 percent of those surveyed said they will do. Around 23 percent plan to use Zwarte Piet characters of different colors.

A full 16 percent of those surveyed said changes will take place this year, 12 percent indicated plans to make changes next year, three percent said within ten years, and one percent said some other time in the future.

Most of the 16 percent of respondents who indicated that Zwarte Piet will be adjusted, work at primary schools with a predominantly ethnic minority student body.

The porportion of schools making adjustments to Zwarte Piet vary largely by region. About half of the teachers in Utrecht, Noord-Holland and Zuid-Holland indicated that the Sinterklaas celebrations are being adjusted this year, or have already been adjusted. In Friesland, Zeeland and Drenthe, 90 percent of respondents indicated that no changes will be made. The survey also found that the smaller the place in which the school is located, the less changes are made.

Four percent of those surveyed said their schools do not celebrate Sinterklaas.