District 69 Halloween ban scares up mixed reactions
Halloween celebrations differ from school to school in Park Ridge and Niles. | File photo
Updated: November 12, 2012 6:12AM
SKOKIE — Superintendent Quintin Shepherd said he has gotten a mixed reaction from parents since officials in Skokie-Morton Grove Elementary School District 69 announced that the district would no longer celebrate Halloween.
Shepherd said some parents have thanked him for the new policy, which prohibits students from wearing costumes, and eliminates parades and passing out candy or otherwise celebrating the holiday.
At the same time some parents have said they want the holiday back, or have criticized the district for making the change without public input.
Shepherd said it was an administrative decision that has been under discussion for several years. The change, he said, is recognition of the cultural, ethnic and religious diversity of District 69 students.
“At the end of the day the thing that continued to stick in our minds is cultural sensitivity,” Shepherd said. “It’s about being sensitive to our students’ diversity.”
In a statement posted on the District 69 website Shepherd said, “Every year the number of students that cannot participate grows. Our staff and administration feel very strongly that we never want students to feel uncomfortable while in school and this celebration makes many uncomfortable.”
The decision is not popular with everyone. Shepherd conceded that some parents have criticized it as an effort to be politically correct.
One resident, Shaun Saville, started an online petition asking the district to reinstate Halloween.
The petition, signed by 93 people, states: “While respecting different cultures is very important, many of our children look forward to the costume parade and parties. It is unfair to the majority of families who do celebrate Halloween to cancel all school festivities with no discussion or input from anyone other than those who don’t celebrate it.”
Shepherd said that in recent years absenteeism on Halloween has been about 5 percent higher than normal. He said there is no proof that it is related to the holiday, but might be.
“We know more kids are out,” he said.
In previous years students who attended school but whose parents did not want them taking part in Halloween activities have been put in a separate room and given other activities, Shepherd said.
The change will affect students at two schools, Madison and Edison.
Another, less-critical reason for the change, is the cost of buying costumes and candy that Shepherd said some families cannot afford.
“Some parents said it is a financial burden and we appreciate that,” he said.
Officials also have some concern about children eating candy that might set off an allergic reaction, particularly among students who are allergic to peanuts or other nuts.
Even with the change in policy Shepherd said children will still be able to have fall-oriented activities in class. Also, students will be allowed to provide Halloween-themed artwork sought by the Skokie Downtown Merchant’s Association for display in store windows.
Shepherd said students who do not want to work on Halloween projects can do other kinds of artwork.
“Our response to their request was ‘absolutely,’ ” Shepherd said.
The decision to participate will be up to individual teachers, he said.