School District Bans Halloween

School District Bans Halloween
PUYALLUP - "Let them have their 30 minutes of dressing goofy and having candy," said Silas Macon on the grounds of Puyallup's Maplewood Elementary School Wednesday afternoon.

He'd just learned the grade school tradition of a party and parade in costume during the last half-hour of class before Halloween night won't happen this year in the Puyallup School District for his two daughters.

The superintendent has cancelled all Halloween activities.

A letter sent home to parents Wednesday states there will be no observance of Halloween in the entire school district.

"We really want to make sure we're using all of our time in the best interest of our students," explained Puyallup School District spokesperson Karen Hansen.

Hansen says the superintendent made the decision for three primary reasons. First, Halloween parties and parades waste valuable classroom time. In addition some families can't afford costumes.

It's the third reason some Puyallup parents are struggling with.

The district says Halloween celebrations and children dressed in Halloween costumes might be offensive to real witches.

"Witches with pointy noses and things like that are not respective symbols of the Wiccan religion and so we want to be respectful of that," said Hansen.

The Wiccan, or Pagan, religion is growing in the U.S. and there are Wiccan groups in Puyallup.

Number eight on the district's guidelines related to holidays and celebrations reads as follows: "Use of derogatory stereotypes is prohibited, such as the traditional image of a witch, which is offensive to members of the Wiccan religion."

"I do lots of things that are not revolving around wearing a black outfit and stirring a cauldron," said Wiccan Priestess Cheryl Sulyma-Masson in an interview with ABC News where she explained that Wiccans (or Pagan Clergy) celebrate nature, not Satan.

A Puyallup School District internal email dating from October 2000 warns that "the Wiccan religion is a bona fide religion under the law, and its followers are entitled to all the protections afforded more mainstream religions. Building administrators should not tolerate such inappropriate stereotyping (images such as Witches on flying brooms, stirring cauldrons, casting spells, or with long noses and pointed hats) and instead address them as you would hurtful stereotypes of any other minority."

2004, however, is the first year that the superintendent decided to cite that concern, along with loss of classroom study time and protection for students who can't afford costumes, as motivation for canceling in-school Halloween activities.

"They're so worried about being politically correct anymore that we're not allowed to do much of anything," said parent Tonya Reynolds whose daughter attends Maplewood Elementary.

"If you don't want costumes, call it a harvest party," said parent Loni Andrews who promises to challenge the ruling at the next school board meeting. "We don't have to take out complete Halloween. We could still do something for our children."

To say the policy put families in an uproar is an understatement. It's tradition at Maplewood Elementary for the kids to parade their costumes through each of the classrooms.

"The younger children, to come in in their little butterfly costumes or their little clown costumes to me, it's just part of childhood," adds parent Marilyn McCoy.

And the kids' reaction? "Oh they're devastated," says parent Karen Harmes. "They're so disappointed, this is a big deal for them."

"Yeah it does bother me because I would really like to go around and dress up," said Maplewood 6th grader Grace Macon.

"I think it's terrible," added Silas Macon. "I think it just kind of takes away from the little stuff they get to do that's fun at school."

Parents are worried about Halloween, or what's now called Harvest Celebration, and about other holidays.

"I'm afraid next it will be St Patrick's Day," says parent Katie McCoy. "Can we not wear green? Can I not send cupcakes for my baby's birthday? Where does it end? That is my question."

So it's both class time, and respect for real witches. "It's a little bit of both," said Hansen of the study time and religious reasons for canceling Halloween activities. "I don't think you can balance respect with instructional time and we would always be looking to do both. We want to make sure our students are respectful of all religions and all cultures.

Hansen also said that the PTA and teachers have been notified that they can hold parties or other Halloween events after the school day is over. Classroom time, however, will not be used for Halloween celebrations. Hansen says concerns about other holidays and parties held in school will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Parents plan to appeal this Halloween ban at the School Board meeting Monday night. But the District says its decision is final.