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Costumed Controversy: Should Schools Celebrate Halloween?

Halloween is here, but is your local school celebrating it? Maybe not.

Michael Davino, the superintendent in Springfield, New Jersey, became the least popular guy in town after he banned elementary school students from coming to school on Halloween in costume. Davino's edict—which was spurred by concerns that costumes distract from instructional time—proved so unpopular that the town's residents protested until he backed down. But Davino is not the first superintendent to ban Halloween: Debates over whether to celebrate the holiday in the classroom have become common.

The pressure of standardized tests has made many educators concerned about time lost to to classroom parties, costume parades, and kids distracted from their math lessons by a classmate's Batman cape. Other schools ban parties because they don't want sugary junk food eaten on campus. And high schools have to worry about kids coming to school wearing costumes that break the dress code.

Schools also have to take the diverse beliefs and culture of their students into consideration. Jehovah's Witnesses don't celebrate holidays, and some strict evangelical Christian groups object to the pagan associations of All Hallows' Eve. Kert Lenseigne, a principal in Everett, Washington told The Herald that he has to consider the needs of all children, and "it really boils down to making sure that the public school setting is a very welcoming and inviting place for all." It may sound like a war on fun to the majority of Americans who see Halloween as nothing more than an opportunity to eat candy, but it's important to take others' belief systems into account. If we don't observe other historically religious holidays in school, why should Halloween get a pass?

When I was a teacher, I delighted in dressing up as the Tin Man for my students. But my fifth grader told me his teacher hasn't mentioned anything about Halloween. His school went a route that's increasingly popular at schools hoping to avoid controversy, moving the costume party to an optional after-school "harvest festival."

Of course, maintaining school as a non-Halloween-crazed space might actually be a good thing for all students. Kids are bombarded with media about buying costumes and candy made by child slaves. On Friday, I heard a local newscaster announce that there were "only three shopping days left until Halloween." Dressing up as a superhero at school may be loads of fun, but I, for one, find it refreshing to see schools declining to take part in the commercialized hype the holiday has become.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user woodleywonderworks

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