Schools Cancelling Halloween Parties over 'Cultural Differences'

Schools across the country have announced they are cancelling Halloween activities this year. These decisions are being made by administrators, often with little or no input from parents. Administrators claim they want to focus on academics but also note "religious and cultural" issues are at play in the decision to downplay Halloween.

A school superintendent in Skokie, Illinois just north of Chicago recently announced that District 69 schools will not be celebrating Halloween this year. A letter sent to parents last month mentioned the need to focus on academics but also explained the decision as the result of economic, religious, and cultural concerns. "Many students cannot afford costumes and there is an economic disparity... We also have students that are unable to participate for religious or cultural reasons."

Many parents in Skokie were not happy about the sudden change in policy; others were bothered that they were not consulted or questioned the reasons they were given. Dave Charles, one of the parents in the district, told NBC, "I don't know how many people associate it with any type of religion." One Skokie parent, Shaun Saville, started a petition which eventually garnered 472 signatures:

It is unfair to the majority of families who do celebrate Halloween to cancel all school festivities with no discussion or input from anyone other than those who don't celebrate it.   The Superintendent has noted that this decision was made because some families can't afford costumes or do not participate for religious or cultural reasons.  If that is the case, why not make it a celebration in which all can participate?

Skokie is not the only part of the country where Halloween festivities have been canceled this year. The Principal of a Pittsburgh area elementary school sent a letter to parents last week announcing, "We will no longer be having any 'Halloween' activities during the school day." As in Skokie, the decision was made without consulting parents. And once again, the principal claims the focus should be on instructional time but also raises religious and cultural sensitivities in the letter:

Halloween is celebrated by many of our students, families and staff. We also have many families who do not believe in celebrating Halloween for personal and religious reasons. Halloween celebrations may cause some students who do not believe in Halloween to feel uncomfortable. We want our school to be welcoming to all students and cultures.

Who are the people who "do not believe in Halloween"? It's not clear whose sensitivities are being assuaged by these decisions. A call left with the Pittsburgh area principal asking for an explanation was not returned.

A school district in Phoenixville, PA north of Philadelphia also canceled costumes this year, noting that "costume safety was becoming a real concern, and that students who couldn’t afford costumes were feeling left out."

In Seattle, an elementary principal canceled all costumes on Halloween, saying, "There was a thoughtful conversation about cultural as well as equity issues that we want to discuss as a staff further, but the reason for the final decision about costumes was instructional time." In the case of the Seattle school, the principal did note that this year Halloween falls on an early-out day, meaning there is already less time for instruction.

The issue of Halloween activities at school became a political football last year when Fox News published an editorial by Todd Starnes headlined "Schools Declare War on Halloween." Starnes noted a letter sent to parents in Portland, OR in which the principal wrote, "For many reasons, the celebration of Halloween at school can lead to student exclusion... There are social, financial and cultural differences among our families that we must respect.”

Starnes's column led to a flurry of mocking condemnations by outlets like Mediaite and The Nation. Both claimed that Starnes and Fox News anchors who reported the story were basing the entire discussion on one quote. But this does go beyond one school administrator. There is clearly a move by some like-minded administrators to end Halloween celebrations around the country. This may be about instructional time, or that may be an excuse offered to cover the more difficult concerns about religious, cultural, and financial differences.

Some parents are clearly upset that traditions they remember fondly are being abandoned. Others don't see it as an argument worth having. In either case, it is odd that school administrators would make these decisions without consulting parents. No one wants to force children or parents to participate in traditions they don't hold themselves. But there is a difference between creating space for alternative views and demanding the majority stop participating in their own cultural traditions for the benefit of those who feel differently. When it comes to Halloween, Christmas or anything else, the answer to cultural conflict shouldn't be an abrupt end to culture. If nothing else, parents deserve an adult discussion about these issues, not a letter announcing an administrators decision.

Headline image: Flickr user user Hitchster


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