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Halloween Costumes Verboten at Buckman; How 'Bout the Candy?

However tempted I am to say something like, "Halloween was simpler when we were kids!"; it's just not true. When I was of trick-or-treating age, I was faced with an enormity of moral and safety concerns each October 31st. My family, very faithful Conservative Baptists, approached Halloween with great suspicion thanks to its age-old ties to the Devil himself. A few years, we went to church on Halloween for witch-free celebrations (that's where I got my first goldfish!); I always chose "good" costumes, princesses and fairies and, ok, I really only ever wanted to be a princess. Also, we had the specter of razor blades and poison, which must have happened one time ever, and yet most of our parents were sure there were razor blade vendors on every block. Beware of the caramel apples! Take heed of the popcorn balls!

This year, in Portland, we have a modern flavor on the ages-old debate over Halloween. At Buckman Elementary, costumes will be banned for the second consecutive year; the principal "says celebrating Halloween at school excludes some kids and can be very offensive." (My six-year-old's school, Grout, is allowing costumes but banning weapons and gory/offensive/skimpy "content.") This has brought up all the debates you'd think ("what's happened to childhood?" "Halloween is an American celebration" "children need to have the opportunity to use their imaginations and dress up, but I do not believe this needs to be accomplished through Halloween"), and a few new twists. A few commenters on Think Out Loud said that they were disallowed from costumes by their family due to strict religious beliefs, and they appreciated the opportunity to stand up for their beliefs (in one case) or to soak up the "normalness" of the culture around them (in another case).

I'm not very passionate either way on this one; costumes at school, for me, means I have to have them ready earlier (I'm a very-last-minute homemade costume aficionado). And I do understand that they are distracting from the learning environment, and agree that there are ample times outside of school to wear costumes. On the other hand, I disagree that Halloween costumes in particular create disparity and cultural discomfort. As one commenter said and I agree wholeheartedly: these differences are always apparent, and Halloween costumes don't highlight them more or less than any other day at school. In my experience, you can see the cultural/economic differences best in the clothing worn to school when it's cold and rainy outside. (And as someone who was once a very poor high school student and is now a high school coach, I'm telling you, the disparity issues only get worse and more obvious every day that goes by in public school.)

Want more reasons to feel ambivalent about Halloween? The candy. It's not just probably pretty bad for you and your kids (and even I let my kids gorge for a day or two on Halloween and a few other holidays; childhood, right?). It's also the product of child slave labor.

Yep (this expose is from the BBC, by the way, and the conditions discussed are likely applicable to all chocolate not specifically labeled 'free trade' or 'direct trade'). I'm going to go forth and quote here:

"A report from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast and other African countries estimated there were 284,000 children working on cocoa farms in hazardous conditions. Many of them have been taken from their families and sold as servants. U.S. chocolate manufacturers have claimed they are not responsible for the conditions on cocoa plantations, since they don't own them. This group includes Hershey, Mars, Nestle, and the U.S. division of Cadbury."

I've been buying fair-trade chocolate for a while now for many reasons; first, the sort of thing that keeps me up at night is the awful working conditions and environmental destruction of tropical crops like sugar and chocolate. (Bananas and coffee too; I'll spare you the rant on these.) The terrible conditions of sugar plantations include workers so desperately poor they are little more than slaves. Once I stopped eating most processed sugar and other processed foods, when I do eat some, I get headachey and depressed. But this tips the scales for me; kids the age of my own kids are sold by their relatives to hack cocoa fruits out of trees, and Hershey and Mars say "hey, it's not our department."

I don't really know what to do here. I'll still let my kids trick or treat; it seems too much to ask to deprive them from it. But I'll be going to People's for a package of fair-trade chocolate (Theo and Equal Exchange are my favorite and a package of mini bars -- while smaller in net weight -- isn't a lot different in cost-per-item than Hershey's) to hand out.

And I'm telling my kids about why I'm getting sniffly and passionate about this. Because I want the world to be a safe place for all kids, everywhere; and I think kids in other countries deserve fun and imagination too, Halloween costumes or no.

HT: I originally read about this issue on Rage Against the Minivan -- great post!


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I never went trick or treating growing up, so I don't feel like my kids have to do that. I love Boo at the Zoo at my local zoo (always on a saturday) where they dress up and ride the carousel, etc. That's my kind of fun - especially when she's just 4. Maybe when she's older we'll talk about trick or treating, but for now I'm content to have her hand out candy with me and enjoy giving away most of the candy we buy at exorbitant prices.
Thanks for opening my eyes about the conditions of children in developing countries. I'm not going to start giving out toothbrushes, but I'm wondering what alternatives there are? Child slaves probably make toys too...I wouldn't be surprised.

Sigh. While I did downplay Halloween a bit with my kids.. made it more about decorating and giving out candy than getting hordes of it.. I didn't outlaw it altogether. And as a pagan adult from fundie parents, I've done my Halloween research, the only devil in Halloween is the Jack O'lantern . Jack tricks the devil to get out of hell, but the devil being equally crafty, only gives Jack a tiny ember to find his way home. Jack carves a lantern from a turnip and that got translated to the American pumpkin later on.

I can see not wearing costumes to school. Not only can a costume get messed up , but tis a quick way to tell the haves from the have nots.

I do buy chocolate made in America. I've been to the Hershey factory in Pennsylvania and its all made right there. And most of the ingredients with the exception of the cocoa come from the surrounding counties. Or so they tell us on the factory tour.

There's only so many issues I can tackle as parent and this political attitude about candy would take more of my family budget than I would want it to. Right? Isn't that fair trade stuff expensive? The fair trade tea I buy is lovely but its hardly worth the extra three dollars a box I pay for it.. so sometimes I pass it by. If you have fair trade candy that will cost a reasonable amount to pass out sixty pieces on Halloween.. please let me know.

We are in Montessori school which doesn't have Halloween in the class... and of course the kids all do it on their own outside of that. As a kid, I didn't like the costumes @ school thing- it seemed like a contest of who can come up with something cool... and if you didn't, you ended up feeling badly. Candy too... I'm sure most kids get quite enough sugar as it is. But people like 'class parties' and for lots of people, that means things like sugar treats. Personally, if the school doesn't do it, then you kid isn't missing out on anything.

I saw the news stories about Buckman's situation and I have to admit I'm annoyed by the fuss the parents are having. I feel pretty strongly that schools are asked to do so much already that falls in the realm of family responsibility to me, why on earth are so many people up in arms when schools are asking families to let them spend the day educating and families can celebrate holidays at home if they want. If mama wants Susie to be able to prance around in costume with her friends, invite them over for a party. I don't think it's right to ask schools to take that on. I agree with the post above about it not being so much about differences to me. Yes, who has a winter coat and who doesn't points that out in a much more meaningful way. And kids who don't celebrate mainstream, Christian holidays? Yeah, they already know they're in the minority. But let's just let schools be school.

I've leaned more and more away from candy for treats that we give out and would be inclined to explore other alternatives, if folks have them to offer. Looking forward to hearing some.

kim, I too saw some of the comments about parents dressed in costumes protesting in front of the school -- which seems to go a bit far!

I've been spending the afternoon contemplating the options for treats if you are concerned about child labor. There are a few organic/free trade options that seem like they're put out by reputable companies; the dark minis from Equal Exchange (the best price is about 19 cents apiece) and the organic lollipops sold at People's (I don't know what the brand is, but I imagine they're relatively commonly available at natural foods stores -- also 19 cents). I've seen other organic/natural options handed out; I know both New Seasons and Whole Foods have this sort of thing, but I don't know what the prices are like (I've sent some emails asking!).

We have so few trick-or-treaters every year (and I'm usually out with the boys, anyway) that I don't have the responsibility of buying a huge amount of candy. How much do you usually pay for big candy-maker treats? $10 or $12, I'd guess, is pretty typical (the cost of 50 or 60 servings of these fair trade treats).

re: non-candy treats, I've seen a few examples of toys and craft items that had some "green" or fair trade-type labeling, but I can't remember the specifics right now. I've also handed out homemade cookies -- only a few people took them but it made me happy :)

My girls are youngish, so haven't been trick or treating yet. I'm one of those mean mamas who won't let her kids have candy, but I have considered the unicef collection boxes when they are a bit older.
Likewise, I suppose you could hand out pennies or nickels instead of candy. I remember taking any pennies I got as a child to the wishing fountain at our park...

Thanks for the information about chocolate. I eat it every day, so this is very good to know.

Thanks for a great post with many intelligent questions. I'm very much against sugar in the schools. At home my children are allowed a small amount of Halloween candy then the Trick or Treat bags are placed high on the fridge where they're immediately forgotten and subsequently dumped in the common places of my husband's office. I will definitely be mindful of the candy I purchase and hand-out this year. Thanks for that.

As for the Buckman parents dressing up - I wasn't there on Monday so I can't say (I heard they wore hats), but I was one of two parents collecting signatures on Tuesday and we wore regular clothes. We were hoping for a compromise (no weapons, masks or scary costumes had been the previous policy), but the gavel came down and negotiation was not an option. The argument then became about how unfair it is that a select group of volunteers and a mysterious equity team gets to make decisions for all of us rather than problem-solving with the community as a whole.

People have told me (online only, of course) to spend my time on bigger issues and blog about something more important, but this only requires tiny spurts of my time (perpetually interrupted by spilled drinks, potty breaks, lost shoes, pick-up's and drop-off's, etc., etc.). The issues are genuinely important to me.

Thanks for bringing new elements to the discussion. Fair trade, healthy ingredients. It's not too late to turn it around.

My kids go to Boise Eliot Elementary, which has a simple dress code (khaki or navy pants or skirt; white, navy, or light blue shirt with a collar; closed-toe shoes). I love the dress code. Dressing up for Halloween becomes a non-issue, and every morning is much easier. There's a lot of economic diversity at my kids' school, but everyone looks the same in Old Navy polos.

The school is having a harvest celebration at night, where kids can wear their costumes. I like this way of doing it.

Well said, Sarah.

thanks for the per-item info, Sarah. That gives me a place to start. My reasons for avoiding the candy go beyond just price, but some does always work its way into the selection. I won't pay $10-12 for Halloween candy in general, but I may be willing to pay a little more than I would otherwise for something I dont feel as conflicted about. And I'm like you in terms of numbers. We get a handful, various ages. Not a ton. I'll also look for some of the trinkets you mention. I was thinking this year about making some play-doh as well. I like to have a bowl with all kinds of choices and let kids choose.

It's good to know about the candy---and I very much think it's entirely possible to have a Halloween celebration without sugary things at school...BUT the costume ban, especially the reasons given is BS.

1) The whole equity thing: guess what, life's unequal and some kids are gonna have more stuff than other kids. And I would raise some serious fight if my school changed to uniforms and told me my daughter couldn't use the pencil case (and yes, I've seen huge first grade battles waged over just that issue) she wanted to. Because we're a free society, it's a public, neighborhood school and our tax dollars pay for it.

Even if one presumably made all outward appearances equitable, some kids would still be better athletes, better students, go someplace nicer on Spring Break, etc. When you try to force equity, you largely condemn everyone to mediocrity.

Additionally, for some poor children, a party at school might be the only fun they actually get in their lives. Trust me, it's true. In the process of "protecting" them, the schools are really denying them.

2) Speaking of athletics and equity, the "distraction" and "time away from instruction" argument also rings false. Most high schools will take all the students out of class for pep rallies, celebrating an elite few athletes--and that's high school! These are young children and there's nothing wrong with offering them the opportunity to have some fun during the school day.

3) From my personal experience with last year's ban at Atkinson (one of the few victories parents had over a VERY dictatorial principal). "Equity" at PPS is generally a very subjective thing.

While our principal tried to ban costumes and institute other "fairness" measures, she also permitted Spanish Immersion students to celebrate Day of the Dead (complete with chocolate, because SHE, herself, liked it). She routinely targeted students whose parents voiced thier opinions for harsher discipline. Oh---and allocated more funds to her own daughter's classroom than anywhere else in the school.

As parents, it is our right and responsibility to stand and oppose anything at our children's school we don't agree with. When we don't seek to check and question authority, power gets out of hand. It's what our country was founded on and I applaud Buckman's community for taking a stand on this issue.

I grew up celebrating Halloween and loving it. So are my kids. But I see no reason for anyone to wear costumes to school. Kids can celebrate all they want at home, with their parents and friends. It's tough enough for teachers to deal with the aftermath of Halloween, with kids both tired from a late night and wired from candy, plus the distraction from all the candy that gets brought in the next day. Why start the craziness beforehand? (And as someone who taught for years in a very poor, very inner-city school, I can testify that it's extremely rare that "a party at school" would be "the only fun" a poor kid may get in his or her life. Even if that were true, it's not the school's job to provide "fun.")

We give out the mini chocolate bars that Trader Joe (usually) carries, which are not very expensive for a pack of 20 (I think) and are made in the US with no nasty ingredients.

I wish I had those kids so many other parents seem to have, the ones who somehow forget about their Halloween candy after a day or so. My kids have minds like steel traps when it comes to their candy. We let them keep about 20 pieces and buy the rest back from them.

Our school, Markham, has a lot of economic, racial, ethnic and religious diversity. They/we lways have a family/community carnival the Friday before Halloween. Costumes encouraged, no masks or weapons. $6 per person, but no family/child will be turned away if don't have the money. Siblings and extended families welcome. Silly games, bouncy house, pizza, henna, face painting, etc. No costumes at school Friday or Monday. There are plenty of events to wear costumes other than school.

Our school does "Dress as Your Favorite Book Character" Day on Halloween, which, meh. it cuts down on costumes with weapons and such. However, my kids usually like to go as Spider-man or something similar for Halloween (which, while from a comic book, doesn't count as a "real" book), so if they really wanted to do Book Character Day we would need a second costume.

On the flip-side, though, the morning of Book Character day, we try to think of favorite characters who wear regular clothes. I have redheads, so Ron Weasley is our go-to!

In the long ago, when I was in elementary school, we had a Halloween parade at the end of the day. There were parties in the classroom, the kids put costumes on right before the parade and we all walked around the track. I remember many parents came to help out/watch the parade, and I have vague memories of "extra costumes" that teachers brought in for the kids who "forgot" their costumes--looking back, it was probably the school's way of providing costumes for kids who couldn't afford them.

Here's the issue with Buckman banning costumes: Buckman is the ARTS MAGNET ELEMENTARY SCHOOL. Arts and creativity are supposed to be integrated into the entire curriculum.

If Brian Anderson is concerned that costumes can be exclusionary and/or offensive, why not get creative and make it into an inclusive activity? Costume-making could become an in-school project, culminating in wearing them on Halloween. What a great vehicle to explore history, culture, art, and the kids' own self-expression!

My older stepdaughters both attended Buckman, and we loved the creative community there. Anderson came on board when the younger of the two girls was in fifth grade. He has enacted a host of rather authoritarian changes which have, in my opinion, diminished the school. Portland has lost a unique community as a result.

Our third - and youngest - daughter is currently in elementary at MLC, and we're so glad that she avoided the negative changes at Buckman. MLC has an annual Halloween Party and Parade that *all* the kids, K-12, are very enthusiastic about.

More than anything, it's just sad to see Buckman becoming an uninspired, by-the-rules, conventional school. I hope Anderson takes note.

zinemama -- my kids never forget their candy either! sugar is far too important to them :)

Allison from New Seasons responded to my email asking what sorts of options they had for child labor-free halloween treats. Her response was great as-is, so I'm pasting now:
The most outside-the-box option is Equal Exchange’s “Reverse Trick-or-Treat” program. The idea is, the kids who are trick-or-treating give a mini chocolate bar and an info card about fair trade chocolate to the person who answers the door. They’ll send you a kit with 15 mini Equal Exchange fair trade (and vegan, and DARK) chocolates for a $7.50 shipping charge plus a donation of your choice. There are also affordable options for larger quantities available for nonprofits. Unfortunately, this year’s deadline to participate passed just yesterday, but there’s great info to file away for next year too:

(…and their Facebook page:

Equal Exchange is a great company that’s making a tangible difference with their commitment to fair labor and trade practices with high-quality coffee, tea and chocolate (among other things), and they’re definitely worth supporting. In our stores, these mini bars are available for $.39 each.

Endangered Species is another brand of fair trade chocolate that is now offering Halloween-sized candy (similar to their Bug Bites mini bars). They’re in our stores for $5.99 for about 24 pieces. Individual Bug Bites are $.59 each, so you’d do much better to go for the Halloween packs.

Many of our stores carry Sunspire’s Fair Trade Chocolate Earth Balls in our bulk bins for $14.99/lb: http://www.sunspire.com/products/bulk-grain-sweetened-dark-chocolate-earth-balls

Also, consider that “candy” doesn’t always equal “chocolate.” There are lollipops and drops from Yummy Earth that are organic, gluten-free and made by people who are transparent about their sourcing: http://yummyearth.com/aboutus.html The lollipops are available in our stores in bags of 50-60 for $4.99.

The best thing about the Yummy Earth lollipops is that they are dairy-, nut- and gluten-free. My daughter had a severe/life-threatening dairy allergy when she was younger. When she was tiny, I'd buy treats that were "safe" for her and ask a handful of neighbors to keep them on hand when we stopped by to trick-or-treat. That way, they didn't need to make any special accomodations for her, but there would be SOMETHING in her bag at the end of the night she could have. Like most kids, half the fun of Halloween for her was knocking on doors and showing off her costume. But most of candy she collected was off-limits. She'd be so excited when we went to a house where they were giving out pencils, playdough, balloons or lollipops, because she could actually keep them. So in addition to all of the good reasons for purchasing the candies Allison from New Seasons suggested, you may also make some food-allergic kid's night. :)

You know what, let kids have their fun. How often do you get to dress up outside of a school uniform and get to let loose a little.
It's like the preacher's daughter being the rebel, because she is TOO confined. Don't let the kids have fun on Halloween and the principal's house will end up getting toilet-papered...
I love Halloween the same as the next person, and it's for little kids to go Trick or Treating and get some candy. Geesh.

I was thinking of getting honey sticks for treats. They are cheap, usually four or five for a dollar and seem more wholesome than Hershey's.

we don't "do" halloween for ethical, spiritual and morality reasons, and i personally think it's great that buckman has decided not to. i mean, i just don't get why parents are so up in arms about it? it's such a double standard-most of the winter holidays come from some sort of religious background, and forcing all the kids at school to dress up and "do" it is just forcing it down their throat---yet if someone tried to force their religion on you, you'd probably be super irritated.
our school makes a point of not doing any holiday or birthday celebrations, and it's one of the reasons why we chose the school. more and more, people shouldn't assume that everyone celebrates the same holidays (or any at all), i mean, that seems really outdated from a politically correct standpoint anyway. i think it's about time schools start getting with the "program". holidays and birthdays are *almost* family/close friend events and really have no place in a learning environment.

I seriously found Halloween costumes stressful as a kid... so it seems a relief to be without that. There's a difference between making a short-notice decisoin to throw on something and run out to a few houses, vs. having to create an ensemble for a full day with your peers. It wasn't my idea of a fun day. I get that others may love dress up and find it really fun... but hopefully there are other chances for them to do that outside 'class'. I also like the theme days... bad hair day, 60's day, etc... gives people a chance to do it or don't do it.

@anon#999 no one's forcing anyone to dress up if they don't want to--that's the point: everyone who DOES want to get dressed up is being forced NOT to. While I fully respect your beliefs, the fact is non-Halloweeners are a minority. MOst Buckman parents want the costumes to continue. It's their school, paid with thier tax dollars, therefore it should be thier decision.

By forcing kids NOT to wear costumes, they're simply accomodating the few at the cost of the many. It's policial correctness taken entirely too far.

I agree with Olivia and CAndy Ruby on this. They're kids, there are plenty of ways to make this inclusive, it's an ARTS school, etc.

With all due respect, Zumpie, I can't read comments like this and not speak up. The argument that non-Halloweeners are in the minority so they should deal just doesn't work for me. It's like suggesting that black children didn't really NEED to drink from separate fountains because they could just watch others get drinks and then drink water when they got home. After all, most parents didn't want their kids to share the water fountain with black children, so that would mean it's okay to have two, after all. Disagree with the stance the school is taking all you want, but you'll need to come up with a better argument if you want me to take your opinion seriously.

I'm going to have to step in here to preserve the tone of the conversation, which has thus far been fairly respectful. Kim, comparing Halloween celebration to racial segregation is unfair and highly charged. Let's not go there.

But Zumpie, everyone who wants to get dressed up *can* get dressed up - after school, at night, for trick-or-treating. I don't understand the notion that not celebrating Halloween at school amounts to kids being forced not to celebrate the holiday at all, and is some huge violation of childhood creativity. Kids (and their parents) can still display their creativity outside the classroom by celebrating Halloween at the traditional, evening time.

I will respect you stepping in, Sarah, but I will voice my disagreement with you calling it unfair. The argument that someone's moral, ethical, religious/spiritual beliefs ought to be stifled for the minority is as serious as segregation to me. It is a slippery slope. But I appreciate you wanting to keep the discussion away from there.

@zinemama, I do see your point...BUT, it's an arts focused, creative school and Halloween is very much part of Portland culture. Banning costumes that don't otherwise violate the dress code is encroaching on free expression at school, in my opinion. Also, the parents want it and it's THEIR school.

The art and creativity focus is great with regards to a dress-up day. Separate it from a holiday, and I bet you would have little complaint. Last time I checked, that public school belonged to me, a tax-payer. It also belongs to the families who say no thank you to Halloween.

@t: And if they say, "no thank you" then they don't have to dress up and/or they can stay home. BUT, as a taxpayer, if my child DOES want to dress up (on Halloween or any other day, for that matter) they should have that right.

It's called freedom of speech and expression. It's precisely why if my neighborhood school suddenly instituted uniforms, I'd protest, consider filing a civil rights suit and send my kid in party clothes every day (and refuse to pick her up) until they changed it.

I agree with not dressing up at school, but for an entirely different reason. Dressing up at school is a distraction. The kids will be amped up all day if they are dressed to go trick or treating. Portland has the shortest school year of the nation. I don't want to waste any day of it with the kids so amped up that they can't learn.

We celebrate halloween at home. We get pumpkins, hand out candy, dress up in the afternoon and go trick or treating. I get it. It's fun. But I don't think it really has a place in school.

Also, I don't by the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few argument. That is a very slippery slope and does get into segregation.

@mommmytothree: there are already lots of distractions at school that are both school sanctioned and non-academic---pep rallies for athletic events, for example. I personally think the entire jocktocracy culture we exist in is completely pointless, elitist and kinda silly. But it's also a tradition and creates school spirit, so I feel no need to protest it.

Not to mention: under the argument of "costumes are a distraction", you allow the school to then eliminate anything they might deem a distraction. Someone's new outfit, pencil case (I harp on this because three different little girls pilfered my daughter's Disney Princess one in the first grade--I'm sure it WAS a distraction for her teacher!) or shoes. And again, any free expression, by its very nature, creates a distraction.

As for the segregation argument, if you accommodate only the beliefs of the few, you're just as guilty as if you accommodate the needs of the many, it's simply reversed.

Perhaps Buckman families are mostly upset and saddened at the loss of a tradition, which--I think--is indeed sad. I think it's okay for children to have a day of fun in school here and there. It's okay to have a "distraction" every now and then. These sorts of things, in my experience, always bring the children closer and make the classroom community more tightly knit. For the children to create memories and then be able to look forward to it again the next year. I was a teacher in PPS and my school had very strict policies about celebrating any holiday because of our very diverse population. However, even though nobody dressed up, on Halloween (or the Friday before if it landed on a weekend) none of my Russian children ever came to school. It always felt sad to me that we could never really talk about holidays and learn from each other's traditions and share our memories. There is so much being taken away from children in public schools, partially because of budgets and partially because of test scores. But it certainly seems that this day of costuming up could be kept as a day of creative expression and tradition. Seriously, as an arts school, think of the creative possibilities (each classroom could decide on a theme or a color or an artist, they could dress up as paintings...)!

Segregation? Are you folks for real? You have the gall equate what blacks in this country have endured with your choice to not participate in a one day children's celebration of costumes and candy? Have you no perspective what so ever?

@Kelly and others - I don't think anyone is equating this with blacks versus whites. I just know that when I read Zumpie's comment:

"While I fully respect your beliefs, the fact is non-Halloweeners are a minority...By forcing kids NOT to wear costumes, they're simply accomodating the few at the cost of the many. It's policial correctness taken entirely too far."

It's this accommodating the few at the cost of the many train of thought that is a dangerous way of thinking. The fact is that we are a community, and we do need to consider all the feelings in it. Everything now seems to be boiled down to "rights". I don't think the forefathers had Halloween costumes in mind when they wrote the constitution. However, I do believe everyone is entitled by law to a free education. Telling people to stay home or come to school and be excluded is a violation of that right.

"It's like suggesting that black children didn't really NEED to drink from separate fountains because they could just watch others get drinks and then drink water when they got home..."

Uh huh.

And no situation can please every single person and group...it's called compromise.

@mummytothree, actually telling someone what they can and cannot wear to that free, public school would be a violation of that right, as well. No one's being excluded by choosing not to wear a costume, they're just not wearing costumes.

Oh my goodness! Are your children really suffering by not getting to wear their costume to school? Not as much as the children who don’t celebrate Halloween and feel excluded and ostracized. I think that many schools in PPS have this policy; most parents just accept it.

Buckman parents, why don’t you take your energy, passion and free time and use it to fight for equal education rights of the students who are not lucky enough to attend Buckman?

"Are your children really suffering by not getting to wear their costume to school? Not as much as the children who don’t celebrate Halloween and feel excluded and ostracized."

Do you have any support at all for this assertion?

"actually telling someone what they can and cannot wear to that free, public school would be a violation of that right, as well."

@Zumpie - I respectfully disagree. All PPS schools have a dress code. It may not be uniforms, but I know in our handbook, it says students are expected to come to school dressed appropriately and ready to learn. Example are no skirts shorter than their fingertips, no gang affiliated clothing, nothing violent, etc. I don't see people getting ruffled over that. It's the same idea - making school a comfortable, safe and inclusive environment for all.

I also disagree that it doesn't exclude anyone by having them not wear a costume. The kids whose parents don't celebrate halloween either keep their kids home for the day (absolutely excluded), or have them not wear costumes. If the latter, you can bet those kids feel excluded. It's not their choice, it's their parents' choice for beliefs that the kids may not understand or believe in themselves. Instead they have to watch all their friends having fun while they are left out.

Do you really and honestly believe that it's ok to exclude children and make them feel bad even if their view is in the minority? Come on - what is the lesson and value you are modeling for your children?

@Kelly, Yes. As someone who, growing up, did not celebrate Halloween for religious reasons, I can personally comment on how bad I felt to come to school on Halloween. Now my family and I do celebrate Halloween, so I do not support this policy for personal reasons, but I can see how it excludes other students. And it is just not necessary as part of the school day.

Many schools have Spirit Week, where students and families can show their creativity, with no religious connotation. If your school does not, maybe you can push for that.

A single persons personal bias/experience isn't sufficient for a change in policy. No one has provided any evidence that Halloween celebrations lead to exclusion to the point where it neccesitates a total ban. There are things we all would prefer but we cannot expect the world to conform to all of our preferences. My school has Halloween thank goodness and my children are super excited to wear their home made costumes.

Letting kids wear costumes (or not) to school on Halloween seems ... normal. Just part of what is happening in most of their lives and in the customs and traditions of the community the school is part of. However, having kids participate in artificial, orchestrated, not-particularly-educational "crazy hair day" "pajama day" "toga day" nonsense irks me to no end. I don't have anything to hang my opinion on - not religion or free expression or deep thoughts on equality and inequality. Just that Halloween is part of who we are and where we live. If we lived in another country it would be another holiday. How cut off from culture should a school be?

I never wore Halloween costumes to school...but I loved Halloween evenings, the trick or treat, and the candy. A bigger problem for me outside of not wearing a costume to school is the problem that some parents have with letting their kids get to be kids and enjoy the holiday to its fullest.

We had 1 of our children in daycare in Portland for a year or so and there was a rule to not celebrate any holidays...for politically correctness reasons. Then we moved to London where my children had an incredible nursery experience. Children of all shades, religions, etc mixed together (very different than in Portland, sorry...as much as I love you, you are not very diverse!). And they actually celebrated EVERYTHING...and it was fabulous. I had Happy Eid, Diwali, Kwanza, etc cards made by my own WASP children. Both they and I got so educated...and what an amazing opportunity to take a young child and open their eyes early to all that is out there! I could never go back to the crazed un-recognition of differences that is "political correctness" now....

@mummytothree, I would say the lesson is being modelled that different people have different values and observe different things---and that you'll need to accept that in a diverse world.

As for dress code, it's pretty minimal---and frankly, we routinely push the boundaries, just because I don't entirely agree with it. There are items that I don't agree with and could, theoretically, dispute as unconstitutional---especially given its extremely subjective nature. Plus nowhere does it say speciifcally "no costumes".

@anonmom: along the lines of Spirit Week, the fact that schools observe that completely negates the "distraction" argument. Spirit Week would be every bit as distracting as Halloween costumes. And cost about the same. So PPS shows their hand, there.

As for Buckman parents focusing their energies elsewhere, isn't that THEIR choice, not yours? My daughter didn't attend Buckman (I wish she had, since clearly I'd have fit in well), but from what I understand, they're quite involved.

Again, the issue does matter to them, and I applaud the stand they're taking.

It seems that the arguments here are Halloween is a tradition, and as such it should continue, and, on the flip side, Halloween is not celebrated by everyone so it should not be celebrated by anyone (in school).

I am reminded of a boy in elementary school who did not say the Pledge of Allegiance for religious reasons. He and his brothers were the only 3 kids in a school of 600-ish who didn't recite the Pledge. I imagine they felt excluded every morning, and yet we all continued to recite the Pledge.

Sometimes when your family is part of a self-selected minority group (ie., religious beliefs, which are a choice, as opposed to say, skin color or sexual orientation) you need to accept that your choices/beliefs do not always align with those of the larger community.

That being said, I think Buckman, being an arts school, should do a recycled/upcycled/whatever-cycled costume build at school. Maybe each class could make a costume for the teacher. Maybe each student could be challenged to make an autumn-esque crown out of only found materials (leaves, sticks and acorns). It is rather disappointing that an arts school can't find a creative solution to this problem.

Also, regarding this statement:

"Buckman parents, why don’t you take your energy, passion and free time and use it to fight for equal education rights of the students who are not lucky enough to attend Buckman?"

I understand there are people out there with bigger problems than whether or not their kid can wear a costume to school (believe me--we lived with no heat last year, I understand problems), but to say that because there are bigger problems we shouldn't focus on the smaller problems is really, well, annoying. Kinda like in every food post on this site, where someone starts to complain that there are starving children in the world and uM is worried about how organic their food is. Why is it not okay to focus on minor problems?

Honestly, this seems less about Halloween and more about a bunch of parents who are angry at an administrator who's made many decisions they don't like, culminating in this one. I'm willing to bet that if a beloved and respected principal had decided to change a long-standing tradition like this, parents might not have liked it, but they wouldn't be linking the notion of a child wearing a costume to school with terms like "violation of rights" and "free expression" and "taxpayers" etc.

@zumpie and anyone else who says "but my tax dollars....".paying taxes doesn't mean you get to choose how to run the school. You don't get to override the decisions of the principal who makes decisions based on what in the best interest of the school. For example, what if some wanted lunch time to be at 9am for their own personal reasons? Paying taxes doesn't entitle you to have your say in every way.

zinemama, like other issues in PPS when individuals make dictatorial choices that affect an entire community without sufficient opportunity for open and honest discussion there is frequently a lack of community buy in and community members who were denied the opportunity to provide their persepectives will protest after the fact.

Good point anon#999. I pay taxes for roads but I don't assume I can drive on the left hand side, simply because I want to.

Paying taxes for schools does not entitle us to control them. A school run by parents, however well-intentioned, rather than by professional teachers and administrators, however imperfect they may be, is a school headed for failure. I pay taxes for professionals, not parents, to teach my child and create a safe and productive learning environment.

I think we have nailed the issue on the head. This isn't really about costumes but about control. Some parents don't like not having control and getting their own way. What a pity for them.

Kelly, of course people will protest choices made without their input. I've been in situations like that. However, there are choices that affect an entire school community in which the community *should* have input - cutting the library program, for example, or doing away with P.E. And then there's wearing costumes to school. My point is that I don't think parents would be making this their hill to die on without a history of some pretty bad blood with the administration.

Being part of a community is acknowledging that everyone has different areas of passion and interest for which they wish to advocate. It's part of the deal and part of what creates a dynamic community where the various aspects, whether they are academic or creative in nature, have their respective supporters. That's why there are library volunteers and festival organizers and TAG representatives and ESL advocates. You may not find it important but others do and part of being in community is respecting that.

Actually I pointed out that it is the majority of Buckman parents who are also taxpayers and consequently thus have a right to have imput and make decisions regarding their school. So actually, if the majority of Buckman parents DID want lunch at 9AM, they'd have every right to lobby for and influence that.

Conversely, making lunch at 9AM to please one or two parents (just as Buckman has currently banned costumes to please a very few parents), not the majority of them, would be unreasonable and unfair.

It's called democracy, we live in one.

I'm pretty sure the parents at Buckman don't want costumes to control the school---it's rather presumptious of you to assume this, actually. I get the impression they want their kids to have a happy childhood and express themselves freely.

Wow-I would like to add my humble opinion here...what ever happened to good ol' fashioned fun, dressing up and being silly, eating probably too much candy and having a wonderful time? Since when is Halloween such a negative event? It is what we make of it. Our family loves autumn and all that it embodies, Halloween included. We love eating soup, collecting leaves, carving pumpkins, making our own costumes, going to neighborhood get-togethers and costume parades, socializing, seeing the kids (and adults if they choose to) enjoy being in costume, walking them around our neighborhood to go trick-or-treating, and yes, of course, eating sweets and candy (in some sense of moderation). We always leave a bag of candy on the porch for the "switch witch" (someone else told us about this great idea) to take to other kids who don't get to go trick-or-treating on Halloween. Our kids are really into this idea and love doing it!

Just my 2 cents to add to this seemingly way too serious discussion about what could and and, in my opinion, should be a fun time for kids! The world is way too serious these days, let kids (and adults) have some fun!

This is just ... wow. I am so dreading our foray into PPS next year.

In what way, Amy above??

We got another email from Mr. Anderson today. I quote:

Dear Buckman Families,

As you know, we have requested students not to wear costumes to school on Monday for Halloween. The reasons have been expressed in several ways, most recently in a letter sent out on October 20th. Since this issue was picked up by various “media sources” all over the country, we have received many disturbing emails, phone calls, and countless blog entries. Many of these were threatening in nature and completely inappropriate. I do believe that the majority, however not all, were from outside of our community.

I wanted you to know I have met with the District and we will have our School Resource Officer here Friday and Monday to help in case we have problems with those outside of our school community. Our number one concern is the safety of our students, families, and staff. Please do not be alarmed if you see this extra security on these two days.

On another note, please see the attached first edition of the online Wednesday News Bulletin. We hope to save a few trees by now sending this electronically to you weekly. Enjoy!

Thank you, Brian Anderson

School Resource Officer, as in police...security?! WHAT???

So now he needs to have a Costume Nazi detail dispatched? Wow! I'd complain if I were you. HE'S the one escalating this, not Buckman parents. My guess is he's trying to prove HE'S in the control and gonna make all the decisions---in the process he comes off as a pompous, rigid, authoritarian jerk.

PPS...great teachers, great families, wonderful community and dismal administrators.

Kelly, couldn't possibly agree more.

An interesting bit to add to this discussion:


Thanks dc...I guffawed.

My kids' school is a "no holiday celebrations" school. Far from being punitive, reductionist, hampering natural childhood and fun, this policy actually is great! Halloween (and other holidays) sneaks in: ghost stories, fall-time decorations. But a no-candy, no-dressup, no-party policy, gently and firmly communicated often to kids and parents alike, is really, truly OK. NEVER EVER ONCE have my children protested, been upset, lamented lack of Halloween/Xmas/Valentine's parties at school, EVER. They **love** those things: after school, evenings, weekends. It's just truly not a big deal.

My heart goes out to you moms/dads/kids whose schools have NOT had this in place and then, un-democractically it seems, suddenly done so. That kind of switch, handled the non-listening, top-down way it seems to be being handled, is really upsetting. I'm sorry!

ETA: they go to a public school.

Glad that you found the link funny, I certainly laughed out loud. I am a teacher of many years, now an administrator and have many email chains in my history that fairly closely resemble the New Yorker piece.

It's certainly a challenge to navigate this type of issue with grace, transparency and respect for both children, parents, and educators involved. Hopefully we are up to the challenge.

While this particular issue is the focus, it can be helpful to pull back and think about the larger lessons. Are the adults modeling the behavior that will best serve the situation? If confronted with an issue that includes many points of view, will the children have learned from observing their parents, teachers and school leadership the best possible skill set?

I am not an Buckman staff person or parent so I leave it to this community to find the common ground and send good wishes for the best possible outcome.

My kids love having holidays part of their school day and I know they would feel a sense of loss if that were changed. My eldest attended school for a while with kids from several different countries since we were near a university and they had even more celebrations to include the cultures of various students and it was truly wonderful. How we mark seasons, celebrate various aspects of human relationships , honor thresholds or landmarks is an important part of development. Not everyone does it the same way so instead of banning them and keeping them hidden at home I think people should experience and honor and understand the many ways people live as a way to build understanding in our increasingly diverse world. In many ways Oregon lags other places in this regard much to its detriment.

Wow. Police at the school? Holy over-reaction. And as a side note, dc, that New Yorker piece was hysterical. Perfect.

Hi. Reading this article and comments with great interest. I am the person that made the "normalness" quote on NPR. And yes, I love making up words!

I called the school today and confirm that the principal is bringing ARMED police officers to school.

My son will be staying home.

Yes, security will be at the school because of death threats being made on staff members. I think it would be stupid to NOT have security present!

I’m such a broken record. This is what I have been saying for the last THREE years…

The principal was placed at the wrong school. It’s probably not his fault, but he was. Unfortunately on top of it, he brought his secretary with him.

@Ben, death threats, REALLY??? By a bunch of boho, super lefty hippies??? Excuse me while I go laugh until I fall down. Principal Andersen clearly and grossly exaggerates (read: is a power tripping liar). If that were true, there wouldn't just be the police, the FBI would be present, investigating, etc.

Clearly he's just seeking to extend his pissing match with parents to terrorizing their kids. And should be removed.

Well, Zumpie has a lot to say for someone who doesn't have kids at Buckman. There has actually been a lot of brouhaha over the no-costume thing at Buckman and I appreciate the thought of having some extra hands available outside the school to be sure that our kids, many of whom walk to school alone, are safe as they enter. It's clear to me that there are people who will make what's happening at Buckman their own political matter without regard to the actual kids and families who go there. I hope that Mr. Anderson is overreacting but just imagine the fallout if he's not and was unprepared. He's damned if he does, damned if he doesn't.
Look, I know that many are unhappy with Mr. Anderson in general and with this costume thing in particular. When Mr. Anderson first came to Buckman it was certainly a jolt from what things used to be like. But I sincerely think that he has the kids best interests at heart. Buckman consistently scores very well on the standarized tests (whatever you think of those, they are actually important, until we can change the rules on them), and the school is safer. It used to freak me out that I would be leaving my barely 5-year old in the hallway with all side doors wide open and no supervision that I could see. When things are stolen from classrooms and homeless are using the school bathrooms, I appreciate Mr. Anderson's attention to safely, even if it means that we have to chat outside in the rain instead of outside a classroom.
I don't give a hoot if kids can wear costumes at school or not. I think that if teachers have to spend their alread short classroom time on figuring out where that line between too-scary or too-inappropriate or not is, that's wasting precious teaching time, of which we have little.
There's plenty of time for fun at school without costumes. Buckman kids are artistic - that's part of the answer. They don't need Halloween to dress up - they can be creative every day. I'm tired of this issue getting so much attention.

Okay, a few things: 1) I generally stand in solidarity with people whose causes I believe in. I regularly supported Shannon Brazil on her blog about this as well. As you note, I had a fair amount to say---because it's a microcosm for this issue at many other schools (includng the one my child previously attended). Not sure why stuff I posted a year ago, supporting some Buckman parents and free speech in general would offend you.

2) Brian Andersen is "damned if does, damned if he doesn't". How so? Since many of the costume parents previously supported him and just wanted him to let their little kids wear costumes on Halloween, I don't really get it. All he ever had to do was lift the ban. How would he have been "damned" then? If anything, he would've been seen as someone who can admit thier mistakes and wants to work with his school community. Those are GOOD things.

You might well not care about costumes, other parents did. Again, if the community that pays his salary wants something so simple, why wouldn't he give it to them, instead of escalating it? And if you're so very tired about this, why did you write on this thread a year later?

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