The decision taken by the South Orange & Maplewood School District (SOMSD) in New Jersey to not host school-sponsored Halloween celebrations during school hours has caused quite a stir within and outside the community. Dr. Ronald G. Taylor, the district’s superintendent, announced this move in a letter to families dated October 6.
Dr. Taylor emphasized the district’s unwavering dedication to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as the driving force behind their recent decision. This move wasn’t arbitrary; instead, it was based on the district’s fundamental principles and philosophy.
According to Taylor, their goal is to always have a clear understanding of how their schools acknowledge and celebrate special events and holidays. One particular holiday that has raised concerns and questions from parents, students, and staff is Halloween. These concerns vary but are consistently brought up each year.
To ensure transparency and capture a comprehensive outlook, the district sought the input of school principals on the likelihood of continuing Halloween celebrations during school time. The majority of the feedback leaned towards discontinuing Halloween events. Instead, the suggestion was to explore the possibility of organizing an autumn-themed festival that would not be tied to any particular cultural or religious event.
According to Dr. Kevin Gilbert, the Assistant Superintendent of Access and Equity, this move represents a break from traditional methods. Dr. Gilbert recognizes that in order to establish a more fair and impartial setting, it is sometimes necessary to reevaluate longstanding practices. He stated, “This decision is a reflection of our commitment to promoting accessibility and equity within our community and marks a significant step towards realizing our goals.”
The district made it clear that they have not completely abolished Halloween. Rather, they want to ensure that school hours are free from Halloween-related events or the wearing of costumes. Additionally, they are encouraging partnerships between schools and external organizations, such as PTAs or HSAs, to organize themed events after school hours.
The announcement was met with mixed reactions, with some expressing their disappointment. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, for instance, took to social media to voice his disagreement, saying, “Is this for real? Are we really not allowing children to enjoy Halloween? Come on, let’s be reasonable.”
Seriously? We can't let kids celebrate Halloween? Give me a break https://t.co/BQiezE5OoZ
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) October 24, 2023
The decision to make this move has sparked a conversation about the delicate balance between promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion and honoring cultural customs.
Halloween celebrations in schools have been rooted in the integration of cultural traditions from various immigrant groups in the United States. Originally, the festival had its origins in the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, which was later combined with Christian traditions to become All Hallows’ Eve. Over time, Halloween has become a more secular event characterized by costumes, trick-or-treating, and festive gatherings, as it became commercialized in the US. To provide a safe and fun environment for children, schools have incorporated parades, costume contests, and classroom parties into their October schedules. However, some schools have reconsidered or canceled Halloween celebrations in recent years. Concerns have been raised about promoting diversity and inclusion, as Halloween may not be universally celebrated by all students and can inadvertently marginalize those from different cultural or religious backgrounds. Some argue that certain costumes might perpetuate stereotypes or be culturally insensitive. In response, many institutions have transitioned to celebrating “Fall Festivals” or “Harvest Days” to ensure that school celebrations are inclusive and respectful of all students and their diverse backgrounds.
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