One of the most special events for children, parents and grandparents during the fleeting elementary school years are Halloween celebrations: The costumed children parading with their classmates, the spooky decorations, the tricks and treats, especially when Halloween actually falls on a school day as it does this year.
So, when Inglewood Elementary School in Montgomery County, Penn. attempted to cancel Halloween festivities this year, enraged parents made a fuss – one that was picked up by several national media outlets.
WPVI-TV in Philadelphia obtained the letter principal Orlando Taylor sent to parents Tuesday announcing the school’s decision, but it turned out he misunderstood district policy and incorrectly banned Halloween.
The letter read, in part:
Some holidays observed in the community that are considered by many to be secular (ex. Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Valentine’s Day) are viewed by others as having religious overtones. The district must always be mindful of the sensitivity of all the members of the community with regard to holidays and celebrations of a religious, cultural or secular nature. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that school districts may not endorse, prefer, favor, promote or advance any religious beliefs….
One furious parent wrote to the news station, saying, “Why deny our elementary school children this right of freedom of expression and celebration of American culture/traditions that most of us experienced in school? It is understandable that academics must come first. However, there should also be opportunities for students to have fun and get the chance to celebrate diversity as well as American traditions as opposed to stripping them all away.”
North Penn School District was so inundated with complaints, especially after the Drudge Report got a hold of the story, that it issued a statement on its website, literally throwing Taylor under the proverbial bus, Philadelphia Magazine reported.
District Statement Regarding Halloween Activities
The Inglewood Elementary School letter addressing Halloween is not an accurate representation of the school district’s administrative regulation (Regulation 6119 below). Schools are permitted to have Halloween parties in their classrooms during the school day and school-wide activities such as parades are permitted before and after the school day. In fact Inglewood Elementary school will hold such a Fall Festival, with Halloween costumes and activities, on the evening of October 18th. Halloween and fall related activities being held at NPSD’s 18 schools include a Halloween dance, fall festivals, harvest festivals, trick or treating and more.
The regulation, which pertains to all holidays and cultural observations not just Halloween, was studied and reviewed by staff, parents and the Educational/Community/Policy Committee of the North Penn School District Board of School Directors before the changes were made this past spring. The administrative regulation is designed to preserve the greatest amount of instructional time possible for our students. As academic rigor increases for students and as state and federal expectations rise, we must continue to focus our time and resources on student achievement.
The regulation also provides guidelines on how cultural observances and religions are to be addressed instructionally during the school day. One of NPSD’s educational goals is to advance students’ knowledge and appreciation of the roles that religious and cultural heritage have played in the social historical development of our civilization. NPSD complies with the US Supreme Court ruling that school districts may not endorse, prefer, favor, promote or advance any religious beliefs.
Unfortunately, the school communication inaccurately confuses the two issues. NPSD will continue to clarify the new regulation with staff, students, parents and community members.
While it’s nice to know the children will have an opportunity to celebrate something called a “Fall Festival,” on the evening of Oct. 18, no less, one must wonder what the school will do for these young children on Halloween – Thursday, Oct. 31.