Student ghosts unmasked in Newton
Primary school cancels Halloween celebration
By Matt Viser, Globe Staff | October 28, 2005
NEWTON -- When students at Underwood Elementary School walk to their classrooms on Monday, there will be no witches, SpongeBob SquarePants, or Johnny Damons there to greet them.
No skeleton paintings or Frankenstein tattoos, either.
The school's principal said yesterday he acceded to the complaints of a handful of parents who said that because the school's traditional Halloween celebrations offended their religious beliefs, they would not send their children to school if the revelry continued this year.
''Not everyone is going to agree with the decision, and I really understand that," said principal David Castelline, , who last year grew a beard and dressed up as Johnny Damon. ''But I felt the goal was really important to make it a respectful and open and welcoming place for all members of our community."
Castelline, who met yesterday with the Parent Teacher Organization to explain his decision, said three teachers told him they had children in their classes who were not going to come to school if the Halloween celebration was held. The celebration, which has been going on for at least 14 years, involves teachers dressing up and lining the hallways and children making Halloween-related arts and crafts.
''When I hear that kids won't come to school because of what we're doing on Halloween, I have a problem with that," Castelline said.
Of nearly a dozen parents interviewed outside the school yesterday, none supported the decision to cancel the celebration. Several parents said they are considering staging a protest by donning costumes on Monday and standing in front of the school.
''If they can cancel Halloween, what about Columbus Day and Valentines Day? We get Jewish holidays and Christmas off, so what's next?" asked Andrea Newman, whose two sons attend the school. ''All it takes is one person to be offended, and our school will ban it."
Castelline said the school instead planned to hold a ''celebration of fall" next Friday. Later in the year, he said, the school plans a costume celebration in which teachers and perhaps students will be encouraged to dress as their favorite literary characters.
No one in Massachusetts is tracking Halloween school celebrations, said a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, so it is difficult to track how many schools forgo the holiday.
Joel Packer, spokesman for the National Education Association, said the controversy is part of a contentious nationwide trend in which schools are trying to shorten or cancel holiday celebrations, either for religious reasons or to put more time into classroom work. Halloween is one of the few holidays that can fall when children are in school, he said, which puts school districts more on the spot.
A recent survey issued by a shopping mall management company found that 23 percent of Americans planned to take part in a school Halloween party this year.
Wilhelmina Ripple --author of several holiday books, including ''Halloween School Parties: What Do I Do?" --said school districts nationwide are changing the name of parties to make the celebrations more palatable for those who want to avoid having school-endorsed ghouls and goblins.
Parents interviewed yesterday said they didn't mind not being able to celebrate the holiday, but they complained that it was political correctness run amok, particularly at a school where one-fifth of the student body is nonwhite and the website is in both English and Chinese.
''The beauty of having diversity is to celebrate different cultures and holidays," said Renee Levin. ,
''It's not good," said her 7-year-old son, Jake, who is planning to dress up as a Ninja and go trick-or-treating after school. ''Last year we got a Halloween party and it was really fun."
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org