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The Debate Over Schools Banning Students From Wearing Halloween Costumes Rises Again

Witches, goblins and ghosts will be roaming the country’s sidewalks this October 31, but one place you likely won’t see them roaming is in the hallways of some schools. A number of schools across the U.S. have decided to forbid students from wearing their Halloween costumes to school, in an effort to be more inclusive to other students.

Students at Hillcrest Elementary School in Waukesha, Wisconsin, will not be permitted to wear their Halloween costume to the school’s fall festival on October 31, and are instead encouraged to wear their favorite hat. While wearing a hat might not be quite as exciting for students as that Iron Man costume hanging in their bedroom closet, school officials say it’s in the best interest of the entire student body.

“We want to be inclusive of all families including those families who don’t celebrate Halloween or find purchasing a costume a hardship,” the school said in a newsletter to parents. “Also, there have been behavior and time management concerns related changing into and out of costumes.”

Similar actions have been taken by schools in New Jersey, Massachusetts, New Mexico and Oregon. “The costume parade is out of our ordinary routine and can be difficult for many students,” said the principal of Boyden Elementary School in Walpole, Massachusetts, in a letter to parents. “The parade is not inclusive of all the students and it is our goal each and every day to ensure all student’s individual differences are respected.” Mitchell Elementary School, in nearby Needham, Massachusetts also announced that it would canceled Halloween festivities this year because in previous years families that did not celebrate the holiday kept their children home from school. The school’s principal, Gregory Bayse, in a letter to parents said that he felt “in the long-term any change towards including all children is a positive change that will benefit our students and our community.” 

At Thomas Jefferson Elementary in Morristown, New Jersey students will participate in an event dubbed “The Classroom Escape” in lieu of a Halloween costume parade this year. Students will be trapped in their classrooms by a villain and have to work together to solve a puzzle to get out. Principal Cristina Frazzano said the new activity was put into place to be more inclusive to those students in the school who don’t celebrate Halloween and “foster team building, critical thinking, and fun.” However, students will still be allowed to wear a costume or school colors that day if they choose.

Parents have, of course, been split on the issue with both criticism and praise for the action. “We have numerous events not all-inclusive, so if you cancel one event you have to cancel them all,” said Julie Lowre, the parent of a child at Boyden Elementary School in Walpole, Massachusetts. Nicole Lewis, who has a child that attends Scholls Heights Elementary in Beaverton, Oregon, argued that allowing Halloween festivities to continue was more about allowing kids to express their imagination. “I think really Halloween is about promoting imagination and creativity and having a little fun, and I just don't think there's anything wrong with that,” Lewis said. Meanwhile, the school’s principal, Monique Singleton, said that after the announcement the school would not be having Halloween festivities, she received support from parents who felt their cultural/religious beliefs had been ignored in the past. “Some shared that in prior years they had opted to keep their child home rather than their child be teased or made to feel uncomfortable for having to choose between their family's beliefs and the school's activities during the school day,” Singleton said.

Aside from religious or cultural concerns, many school officials also cite the decision for not allowing students to wear their costume to school as an economic sensitivity. While some students arrive in elaborate and expensive costumes, other students may not be able to afford a costume and could feel left out or be teased for lack of one. “There's a lot of differences in the type of costumes that can be worn, and what some could afford and not afford,” Des Moines, Iowa district spokeswoman, Ann Thelen, told USA Today. “It put parents in a competitive position.”

Michael Osnato, chair of the Leadership Department of Seton Hall University and director of the University Leadership Institute program for aspiring and new superintendents, said that this isn’t a new issue for schools and reflects a greater pressure for school districts to “respond to the needs of a very diverse population.” Osnato said that school districts are put in a tough place with all cultural and religious holidays and celebrating or not celebrating them can be a lose-lose situation. "Look at the role that religion plays in the world," he told "Public schools are not impervious to that."

Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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