msnbc.com news services
updated 8/27/2010 7:43:03 PM ET 2010-08-27T23:43:03

A Catholic school has apologized to parents offended by a boy pretending to be Adolf Hitler winning first place in his class at a school costume contest, the West Australian newspaper reported.

The school sent an apology letter Wednesday after parents complained about the boy's character portrayal at a book-week assembly, the paper said Friday.

The principal, who was not named, told the newspaper that a handful of parents had approached or e-mailed him after the event to say the costume, which included a swastika, should not have been allowed in the school.

The principal defended the child's choice.

"He (Hitler) was a fairly famous person," he told the West Australian.

Two children from each class of 9- and 10-year olds won the contests, the paper said, noting the principal was one of a group of teachers who decided who would win.

He said claims that other children had been chanting "Hitler" while the student was on stage were untrue.

"It was a form of voting," the principal was quoted as saying. "I would strongly deny that the children were chanting 'Hitler,' I take strong umbrage to that."

Children called out characters' names as part of the voting process.

"Some people got upset because kids called out Hitler," the principal told the paper.

The principal said that he did not see anything "sinister" in the student's choice of character. "To me it's a mountain out of a molehill," he said.

Some parents had also objected to children dressing up as "nasty" characters, such as vampires or the grim reaper, he told the paper.

He said he did not believe that teachers showed poor judgment by awarding the Hitler costume a place. "I just think it's a one-off thing that in retrospect we'd do differently."

The West Australian quoted parts of the letter sent to parents:

"A small number of characters were considered by some people to be inappropriate."

"For all future dress-up activities, teachers will ensure that students and parents are aware of the sensitivities that are associated with particular characters and restrict the choice of characters to those appropriate for primary school-aged students."

"Junior schoolteachers will debrief students in a very pastoral way in regards to this year's book-week dress-ups to ensure students understand the significance of their choice of character and the impact it has on other people.

"Once again the college apologizes for any umbrage that may have been taken and seeks your pardon to continue to build a vibrant and loving school community."

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