Our town's elementary school decided to not celebrate Halloween this year.
Ripton, Vermont, has had all kinds of community-based Halloween festivities over the years, anchored on the school: hayrides, haunted houses, a spectacular haunted forest, spooky stories read out loud, costume parades, the works.
This year, however, the principal decided not to do anything for Halloween. No scary stories were read in the library, no costume parades were held, nothing staged after school on the school grounds. Moreover, kids were free to do what they wanted outside of school, but were forbidden to do anything Halloween-ish in school. For example, some children brought costumes on Friday, were told they couldn't wear them, and were probably as sad as you might imagine.
A stroll through the school and around the grounds revealed no decoration, poster, or any kind of Halloween-related item.
Following this decision's announcement in school, a protest started in the upper grades, as two 5/6ers started up a petition in favor of the banned holiday. This didn't get far, as either* their teacher or the school's principal chided them. Said authority figure described him or herself as "disappointed" in the activist children, and explained that petitions were "disrespectful."
The two would-be petitioners then, according to parents, tore up their document. This was to protect themselves and their classmates from getting in trouble. As of this morning no copy of the fearsome document can be found.
The principal called this "a teachable moment," and I fear that she's right. The children learned something about authority and how to treat it with fear and tactics.
I wrote "announcement in school", because the school did not communicate this decision to parents or the larger community. No printed note, no email, nothing in a newsletter, no poster in the lobby, nothing.
After days of discussion and investigation, no answer is really available. No formal communication came from the school. Children were told that in-school celebrations were against federal law, then passed on this legal interpretation to parents. I've been promised a legal citation from the principal, and wait for it still. The school seems to have moved on to a reconsideration of December's holidays.
So, Infocult readers, help out our little mountain town: why not celebrate Halloween? What motivations could lead an administrator to block the fall's great holiday?
- A separation of church and state concern. In this model, celebrating Halloween looks like imposing paganism and witchcraft. I haven't heard of this, but find that thought entertaining.
- The reverse fear: worries that some parents could deem their religious sensibilities offended, and sue.
- A cultural, non-legalist fear of paganism and associated fearsomeness. That would be rooted in Christianity in our little community, most likely.
- Fears of costumes offending different audiences.
- Concerns about children being scared. Which you might think was part of the plan, but still.
- Equity: worry that poor families wouldn't be able to equip their children with sufficient costuming.
- A school policy movement: are other schools doing this, so that Ripton is participating in a kind of sea change?
- Crass commercialism: seeing Halloween as being all about increasing purchases of treats and costume materials.
A second request: what should we do next? Is this something for our mountain town to accept? Should we plan on returning Halloween in 2011? Is it worth continuing to ask for information?
*By "either" I mean "we have heard different things". The principal denies speaking to the kids, but some of the children insist it was her. No word from the teacher.