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Maryland Halloween Celebration

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Letter to the Principal by Concerned Parents of Maryland Avenue Elementary School October 4, 2013 John Hood Principal Maryland Avenue Elementary School 2754 Maryland Ave Columbus, Ohio 43209 and Dr. Mike Johnson, Bexley Superintendent (via email: Dear Mr. Hood, This letter represents the thoughtful consideration and consensus of the below-signed concerned parents of Maryland Avenue Elementary School (“MAES”). Through this letter, we are requesting that you reconsider your decision to cancel the annual Halloween festivities this year. Below, we seek to address your concerns regarding our community’s tradition and we hope, by your reinstatement of this tradition, we can show our children that they attend a school that supports their educational and social development reflecting our community’s values. We trust that your decision to cancel Halloween was not an easy one. Please understand that we do not question your authority to make the decision to prohibit a Halloween celebration in school, and, we can all agree that you are well-intentioned. Through your commitment to MAES, you have always shown yourself to be an administrator who continually seeks to enhance our school’s ability to offer the best public school education possible. We are proud of the school and we continue support your efforts and support you as our Principal. However, we think your decision in this case is misguided. We have heard the following arguments in support of your decision to cancel Halloween at school: (1) The Halloween celebration excludes some Maryland families; (2) Some families are at an economic disadvantage and the Halloween celebration can cause financial stress; (3) The Halloween costumes that children wear are sometimes inappropriate or too violent; and (4) The in-school Halloween festivities detract from class time and the teaching mission of the school. Allow us to respond to the above-cited arguments and to offer some solutions to address your concerns. As to the first point (possible exclusion of individuals), we recognize and appreciate the diversity of ethnicities, cultures and religions that make-up the Maryland student-body. This diversity should be celebrated and respected. If a family chooses to exclude their child from a school activity for religious or moral reasons, the school must be respectful of this personal decision. However, should we not use the family’s choice to exclude as a time to promote tolerance, rather than avoid the issue altogether? Should a family decide it does not want its child to participate in the Halloween festivities, would that not be an appropriate opportunity to share with the students why some religions celebrate certain holidays (religious and non-religious), while others do not. This is a teachable moment. As a school, should we cancel a program or an event or a class because two or three families exercise their freedom to not allow their child to participate? What would that mean for our Sex Ed program when families refrain from participation based on their moral or religious objections? Would this important program be in jeopardy? Where would we draw the line? If your decision stands on this rationale (avoidance to mitigate exclusion), logic would dictate that the proposed Thanksgiving/Harvest festival, which features square dancing per your announcement, would also be in jeopardy, would it not? After all, there are numerous religious traditions that prohibit dancing. For example, in Islam, women can dance with women but mixed dancing is haram; Hutterites do not dance; Baptists (most sects not all) prohibit dancing; Jehovah's Witnesses avoid dancing; Seventh-day Adventist Church members don't dance; and Mormons -- except for celebrities such as the Osmonds – stand still. So, by arguing that the activity is exclusionary, we would expect that we would not allow square dancing at the Thanksgiving/Harvest festival. Being sensitive to other cultures and peoples is important and our school should play an important role in this. However, should we also prohibit a celebration of Thanksgiving in our schools because many Native Americans see Thanksgiving as a day that commemorates the beginning of their genocide? Of course, this view distorts political correctness and over-sensitivity allowing for absurd results - - which, I am sure, none of us would support.  We have all heard arguments against the celebration of Halloween because it is a Catholic holiday, or somehow linked inextricably with Christianity. First, in practice, there are no religious elements to Halloween whatsoever. Second, educated people know that such claims over-simplify the true, historical origins of Halloween. Most of the traditions of Halloween date back more than 800 years B.C. to the Samhain, and it was the celebration of the ancient Celtic New Year. Samhain, which translates to "end of summer," occurred around the end of October, when the weather started to get cold. At its heart, Samhain was an observance of all the important things that were happening during this change of seasons. The origins of Halloween are fascinating and this is an opportunity to explore them more deeply than in past years. The second argument we have heard used to justify banning Halloween relies upon the concern that some economically disadvantaged families are unable to participate fully in Halloween because those families cannot afford to buy costumes. We do live in a community of haves and have-nots, but MAES has done great work to make sure this economic diversity in the student body is not problematic for our children. Some parents send their children to school with iPhones, tablet computers, expensive accessories and designer clothes, but it would be ludicrous to prohibit these excesses because classmates could not afford them. However, we should do whatever we can to level the playing field wherever we can. One solution might be to disallow purchased costumes and only allow costumes made from materials from the home. In so doing, we would be encouraging our children to be more creative and resourceful. The third argument against Halloween above brings up a good point, and represents part of our struggle to protect our children from popular culture’s inappropriate themes. We agree that violence surrounds our children. Movies, TV, music, video games are too violent and often contain inappropriate themes. We don’t object to putting reasonable limits to encourage costumes that don’t offend or conflict with the messages we are trying to send to our kids each and every day. Should a child arrive at school with a costume that is inappropriate, that child should be asked to remove it. You need only remove the costume, not the holiday, to adequately address this issue. Lastly, we wish to address some valid concerns regarding pedagogy. The talented teaching staff should be able to find pedagogical value in the Halloween tradition. A 10-second Google search of Halloween lesson plans provides a trove of information and resources using Halloween as a vehicle to reach our children. We found a wonderful series of links and resources for Halloween provided on the National Education Association’s website. These lesson plans explore the myths behind the origins of the celebration, the meaning of the different symbols, the pagan rites and celebrations honoring ancestors, etc. Use Halloween to enrich class pedagogy rather than use pedagogy as an excuse to prohibit the celebration. We see opportunities for improvement of our school-wide celebration and we support your efforts to make Halloween a day that is more educational, less exclusionary, and conducted in a more appropriate and creative manner than in years past. We are in steadfast disagreement with the decision to dismiss the potential of what Halloween could become simply because one is focusing on what it is not. As parents, we see the joy and excitement of our children anticipating this annual event. That joy and the child’s education are not mutually exclusive. By dismissing the Halloween festivities altogether, a confusing message is being sent. We request that you not only re-instate the long-held tradition of the Halloween celebration for the students of Maryland Avenue Elementary School – joining with Cassingham and Montrose Elementary Schools - in our community, district-wide celebration - - but in so doing, please put your mark on the “holiday”. Allow our kids to create, learn, and celebrate together. Do not deprive our community of this effort. We, the below-signed parents, ask you to reconsider the cancellation of the Halloween celebration for the reasons stated herein. Thank you for your continued effort to lead our school and, above all, your willingness to act in accordance with wishes of the overwhelming majority of parents, educators and students who have expressed their views to us. Sincerely,


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