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Some schools take Halloween out of education equation

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By Julie Muhlstein
Herald Columnist
At one school, it's "Mathquerade." At others, it's time for a harvest party. And some area schools still take the traditional approach -- letting students dress up in costumes on Halloween.
Asking how schools plan to celebrate -- or not celebrate -- Halloween is a little like dumping out the candy sack after trick-or-treating. It's a mixed bag.
A parent with a child at Everett's View Ridge Elementary School shared a memo sent home with the heading, "Important." While students were allowed to dress up for a "Dads and Donuts" event Friday morning at school, the memo said that on Monday, "No child should be wearing any kind of Halloween costume on that day to school."
View Ridge Principal Kert Lenseigne said Friday that some families wouldn't send children to school on Halloween if costumes were allowed.
"It really boils down to making sure that the public school setting is a very welcoming and inviting place for all," he said. Lenseigne said Jehovah's Witnesses and some immigrant children would not attend school if costumes were allowed.
View Ridge, he said, "is guided by a pretty strong strategic plan that the school needs to be more inclusive."
The principal said the hourlong PTA-sponsored event Friday gave children whose families observe Halloween a chance to put on costumes and have fun.
Some teachers at View Ridge, like those at many schools, plan "harvest-themed" parties, the memo said. Lenseigne said some teachers turn those events into a time to learn about other cultures -- including El Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. Celebrated on All Saints' and All Souls' days, Nov. 1 and Nov. 2, the Day of the Dead is a day for family gatherings in Mexico.
Halloween, of course, has religious roots. Ancient Celts celebrated Samhain, when it was believed souls could return to their earthly homes the night before the new year began. The word "Halloween" is a contraction of All Hallows Eve. The Roman Catholic Church observes All Saints' Day, a holy day, on Nov. 1.
Some Christians, though, associate Halloween with its pagan history and with witchcraft and the devil, and choose not to acknowledge it.
Schools are caught between completely ignoring a day that is a big event for many children and finding creative ways to mark Oct. 31.
Penny Creek Elementary School, in southeast Everett, on Thursday marked its fifth annual "Mathquerade." Shelley Petillo, the school's principal, said the evening lets children wear costumes while luring them to school for math games.
"I want all my kids to feel included," Petillo said. She, too, said some families would not let children attend school if Halloween costumes were worn during the day.
"Some have strongly religious feelings about Halloween and keep kids home," she said. "We try and do this as an option. School is not an option."
Petillo has a tradition of putting a huge pumpkin in the courtyard before the evening party and asking students to guess how many seeds it has. She actually carves it and counts the seeds -- carving the number into the pumpkin for party goers to see. This year's pumpkin had 641 seeds, she said.
Everett School District spokeswoman Mary Waggoner said Friday there is no district-wide policy regarding Halloween costumes, except that children are not allowed in costume on school buses. "Principals can handle things in different ways," she said.
Unlike years ago, when dressing up and eating treats took much of the school day on Halloween, "we get that day back for learning," Waggoner said.
Not all districts discourage costumes.
"We leave a lot of the decision-making to the principals," said Andrea Conley, a spokeswoman for the Arlington School District. At Arlington High School, Conley said that students will dress like teachers and teachers will dress like students on Monday. "And the office will be the crew from the Starship Enterprise," she said.
"We don't have a lot of education time, so we try to make it work, and not get them too wound up," she said.
Some Arlington elementary schools have costume parades, just like I remember. Schools that allow costumes all seem to share a few rules: no gore, no blood and no weapons.
Stanwood High School, which will allow costumes Monday, has on its website a long list of guidelines, including a ban on masks, face paint, blood, gore, weapons, wands and pitchforks.
The school also called attention to what is tolerated the rest of the year. The regular dress code spells out that students shouldn't be showing midriffs, cleavage, underwear, or slogans that promote hate or substance abuse.
I'm lucky enough to have a 13-year-old. From what I see, kids get pretty creative with costumes -- every day of the week.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460,
Story tags » Education & SchoolsHalloween

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