MAPLEWOOD, New Jersey -- One New Jersey school district is suspending all Halloween celebrations during school hours.
Dr. Ronald G. Taylor, Superintendent of Schools for the school district of South Orange and Maplewood (SOMSD) sent a letter to families announcing the decision earlier this month.
"Each year, questions arise from families, students, and staff about what SOMSD schools will be doing regarding Halloween," Taylor wrote. "Is promoting school-sponsored Halloween activities creating indirect and unintentional financial hardships for students and families? Do school-sponsored Halloween activities violate the dignity of some of our students and families, either culturally or religiously? Does the promotion of school-sponsored Halloween activities create tensions with the equity and access values of SOMSD?"
Seth Boyden Elementary School in Maplewood stopped having Halloween celebrations in 2015 and began having fall festivals instead.
"In 2015 there were about 80 or 90 students that couldn't participate, and we had a high absenteeism rate on Halloween," said Shannon Glander, principal of Seth Boyden Elementary School. "Students come, they pick pumpkins, they decorate pumpkins. (The fall festival) is a just great time for the families to get together and celebrate the fall, and our community."
Other elementary schools in the district seemed to have the same issue year after year. As such, the district announced that it would move away from in-school Halloween activities to a fall festival, to include everyone.
"We have some within our communities that either have cultural or religious reservations as it pertains to Halloween," said Dr. Kevin Gilbert, assistant superintendent of access and equity. "By having school-sponsored Halloween events, are we pushing a group of our families and our students to have to makes decisions that may be counter to their belief system?"
Superintendent Taylor asked the principals at all the district's elementary schools for input, and they each agreed a fall celebration would benefit families on many levels. District parents seem to be in agreement.
"I know some parents can't afford to get costumes especially if they have multiple kids, and they want specific ones... It gets a little bit hard. I think it's good, it's inclusive," Sabrina Grant, a parent said.
The district will still allow Halloween gatherings on school grounds, as long as they are planned for after-school hours. No costumes will be allowed during school hours at SOMSD schools, but schools can partner with their PTAs or other organizations to host Halloween-themed events.
"All of us realize that this breaks with what the District has usually done, and that can be a difficult thing to do sometimes," said Dr. Kevin Gilbert, Assistant Superintendent of Access and Equity. "Often, working to instill greater equity in our district begins with recognizing that we cannot do what we have always done. But with this decision, we are taking a step closer to upholding our community's access and equity values."