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Chasing the Ghouls out of School ; Lost Class Time and Religious Objections Are Prompting Schools to Rethink Halloween - or Drop It Altogether

By Marjorie Coeyman writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, October 31, 2000 | Go to article overview

Chasing the Ghouls out of School ; Lost Class Time and Religious Objections Are Prompting Schools to Rethink Halloween - or Drop It Altogether


Marjorie Coeyman writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


A chill creeps into the air, tree limbs are suddenly stark and bare, and children of all ages disguise themselves as ghosts, goblins, and witches.

For many American parents, the celebration of Halloween is a long-standing tradition of American childhood, as integral a part of autumn as a cup of hot cider or a football bonfire.

But for a growing number of today's school administrators, Halloween has become pretty spooky.

Fears of school violence, protests from parents about the holiday's pagan roots, and discomfort over losing class hours in an age rigidly focused on test scores have put a damper on traditional classroom festivities. Even as adults sink record amounts of money into lavish costumes and parties, more schools are either easing the holiday out altogether or celebrating it in ways that replace dark and disturbing images with more wholesome and educationally sound activities. * At Manatee Elementary School in West Palm Beach, Fla., students march in a "storybook" parade, with costumes linked to the school's curriculum. Third-graders this year will be sporting Greek togas to supplement classroom lessons on ancient culture.

"There will be nothing scary, nothing spooky," says Patricia Mangiafico, assistant principal. "That's just not appropriate for school."

* At the 27 charter schools in Michigan, North Carolina, and New York run by Grand Rapids-based National Heritage Academies, there are no Halloween celebrations during class time, although a few of the schools hold evening "fall festivals."

"School administrators have got enough on their plates today without the distraction of having kids dress up and act out," says Todd Avis, director of education for the schools.

* In Conway, N.H., a school-board meeting will be held in November to discuss whether Halloween should be removed from elementary schools' curriculum. A former board member pushed the issue, saying that Halloween glorifies evil and death and celebrates the occult.

* In Troutdale, Ore., teachers at Sweetbriar Elementary School got together and fundamentally reshaped the Halloween tradition. Concerned about the inequity (some children wore lavish costumes that others could not afford) and the frenzy the holiday created, they established more-quiet activities featuring simple costumes made in school. This year, first-graders, for instance, will act out a teddy bears' picnic, wearing paper ears they cut out.

"It won't be so much of a distraction," says principal Pat Baker.

If schools are uncomfortable with Halloween, the American public in general seems to feel the opposite. In economic terms, the celebration is second only to Christmas, with retail sales of more than $3.5 billion, according to the National Retail Federation in Washington.

But perhaps in part because of the elaborate nature of some celebrations, there has been a backlash in many circles, including some conservative Christian groups that see Halloween as the unnecessary glorification of a pagan ritual.

"I certainly would rather not see people celebrate it or be involved with it," says the Rev. Keenan Roberts, associate pastor at the Abundant Life Christian Center in Arvada, Colo. He says the distaste he and some others feel for the holiday didn't exist even a generation ago. "I was raised in a pastor's home myself, and back when I was a kid, nobody thought anything about [celebrating Halloween]," Mr. Roberts says.

Not for my children - or yours, either

But today, he notes, excessive media attention to some of the gorier aspects of the holiday has caused more parents to question the extent to which they want their children involved.

Some see the rejection of Halloween as part of a larger social backlash. They believe that for many parents, playing up Halloween in school - even as Christmas celebrations become more subdued - is one more infuriating example of the triumph of secular values in the classroom.

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