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The great costume debate: Is this really just a power struggle?

I got the chance to connect to my email after several hours offline at a cross country meet, alone with my nine-year-old son. I read the comment on the Halloween costume post that quoted a memo the Buckman principal sent to 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."

I said something incredulous aloud. (Probably: "oh, my GOD.") "What?" asked Everett. I gave a basic rundown of the issues: an administrator made a decision to ban costumes. His expressed aim was to reduce the pressure on the small number of students who didn't celebrate Halloween, and to remove distractions from school.

"So..." I said. "He didn't want kids distracted by wearing costumes. But now because people are so angry about his decision, the entire school community is going to be subjected to security in the halls because of threats from around the country. And there will be TV cameras and radio microphones outside school. A little distracting, don't you think?" [Update: there will be armed police officers at the school.]

"Why doesn't he just change his mind?" said Everett. Indeed.

Even though the pressure and criticism may be mostly external, it seems that the principles are now being largely obliterated by the stand the administration is taking. Is it worth it? In my opinion, no.

Talking it out with Everett made me see what I think the issue has become: not cultural sensitivity. Not the protection of childhood fun. This is about power. The principal who made the decision is not backing down, even though the debate now smacks more of circus than education. I don't think all our kids' best interests are preserved by protecting a few students who don't celebrate Halloween from awkwardness -- not now that it has become such a huge debate.

Keep Portland weird. Consequences be damned.

[Note: I edited the end of this post because it was initially hard to understand. Sorry; I didn't want to get a debate going all over again for a badly-written sentence or three.]

Comments

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I have to say that I don't understand the logic here, Sarah. I have remained neutral on the "great Halloween debate" issue, and I certainly agree that that email (which I'm sure the principal now wishes he hadn't written, given its viral spread) provokes an even more defensive reaction. But to say that you "don't think our kids' safety is worth the mild relief of awkwardness that the few students who don't celebrate Halloween will achieve" suggests that the policy itself--not to have kids wear Halloween costumes to school, which our school also follows, btw--is responsible for threatening kids' safety. While the hiring of a security detail seems totally over the top, isn't the point here that the over-the-top rhetoric and responses to the decision to disallow costumes what made the school fear for kids' safety? I'm not at all validating this choice, again--but I feel like if there were real threats that the school was worried about, it seems unfair to suggest that a policy to ban Halloween costumes justifies such threats.

I don't agree. In fact, it IS cultural sensitivity, respecting a minority who don't celebrate halloween. But from what I understand, that wasn't the primary reason for the decision, but the decision does serve the minority well. Parents who are upset need to put it in perspective and get over it. Do your own halloween stuff *after school!*. Geez.

It clearly hasn't served anyone well.

Oh also, I honestly don't find the "keeping portland weird" thing applicable to me. Im not weird, and honestly don't like to be thought of by other states as on one of "those portland freaks" like the way we're being portrayed. So no, if suppoerting halloween in schools is keeping portland weird, count me out.

Molly, I'm having a hard time parsing my own sentence now. (what I get for writing this with a bunch of distractions.) so yes -- the response is also part of the problem. actually, the response by media is MOST of the problem, and I don't get the anger. (btw anon#999: I don't really care one way or the other if kids can wear costumes to school. I just find this process worth discussing -- it seems to be affecting our kids.)

But the anger in the Buckman community, if I'm reading the comments right, seems to be coming not so much from the decision as the way the decision was made -- that's what's causing me to believe that the administration should probably have backed down. I just don't think the principles here are worth such a big fight.

(also, Molly, I don't think that the policy decision itself justifies the threats! not at all! I edited the post so hopefully it doesn't any more lead to that interpretation.)

(and anon#999: I don't much like 'Keep Portland Weird' but for a different reason -- irony. Austin is the one where the saying came from originally. if we were really weird, we wouldn't have to copy a slogan, right?)

Sarah--sorry that you had to go and revise the post--and I certainly didn't think you thought this...just like to think through logic.

On a more substantive note, though. I don't know Buckman, or the principal there, or much more about this particular issue than what I've read on this site. But I hope that people can use this blown-away situation not simply to critique the seemingly tyrannical power of a school administrator, but to think about the challenges to schools and teachers when seemingly small decisions come to results like this. I mean, that New Yorker piece that was linked in the other Halloween post was hilarious, yes (in short, if you haven't seen it (you should though), it satirized the "fall" of a teacher who could never quite satisfy parents around holiday stuff)--but I think there's a good kernel of critique there too (as in all the best satire): What do we want our involvement in school decisions to look like? When should we acknowledge that part of signing on as a community member of a school might involve ceding some control to those that run the school?

I was on the "we don't need costumes at school" side of this argument. Honestly, we have few enough school days as it is. How sad for Buckman that this issue is now an...issue.

Our PPS elementary school also does not allow costumes. With a Kindergartener, I'm new to all of this. But it seems like a non-issue at our school. Whatever the motivation behind the decision it seems fine by me. Frankly, if I had 27 Kindergarteners in my classroom, I wouldn't want to deal with all of their costumes and resulting distractions either!

School is more than reading and writing; it's learning to be a full human in an increasingly diverse world. They are children and they should celebrate at every opportunity and embrace difference and be taught that it is part of the unique tapestry of this country. Celebrate, be silly, dress up, share your narrative, listen to others who embrace a holiday and ask why, share your celebrations, mark seasons and transitions and acknowledge that there are a million different ways to do so. You might accept or agree with some or choose to not embrace another but they are important and vital parts of these children's lives and to homogenize, nullify and gloss over these things is wrong and it denies their formative influence. Why should school be a place devoid of any culture? Sounds like a grey gulag.

Yeah, power struggle, true. But, oh well. Not worth it to fight this one, I don't think. Just observe, document, and hopefully push out an unpopular principal?

Really don't believe that most small children dressing up as princess/fairy/go-go-dancer/movie hero/scary bad guy/whatever have any clue about "embracing a holiday" beyond (1) dress up either the way -- often soooo gender-stereotyped--you're "supposed" to be, or the way you want to impress other kids; and (2) eat candy. (Older elementary kids might, indeed, be trying to express their own narratives.)

I, for one, would love it if kids were aware of the various traditions surrounding All Hallow's Eve, Samhain, Day of the Dead, transitional times, etc. But, even "cool Buckman" kids are, I bet, pretty darn focused on the costume/candy aspect.

Hallowe'en--modern, American Hallowe'en--is NOT "culture," IMO. It's a weird tradition that has gotten so out of whack that older kids w/out costume knock, bored, on my door and mumble the right phrases to get some sugar.

I don't think that's true. It's a day when you get to choose who you want to be, a hero, a villian a fairy an astronaut. You are freed from the confines of your narrative and you are a super hero or a princess. Putting on masks, dressing up, trying on personas is an important develomental tool. For many children its the one day they are free to be the true selves they imagine themselves to be. As the days grow shorter and darkness falls we prepare by having celebrations that capture the possibilities inherent in the liminal place between light and dark, living and dying and we sweeten it with sugar. We face our fears and they lose their sway. I'm sorry it lacks resonance with you but I assure you that's not the case for many.

I don't have school aged children, but I've followed this coverage. I have to say I was completely turned off by the Buckman mother who was on OPB's "think out loud." My least favorite comment was something to the effect that she didn't believe there were any children who couldn't afford a Halloween costume. I can hardly think of a less aware and more insensitive sentiment. The whole indignant parent aspect of this contraversy seems like an enterprise of the over-privileged. Surely the adults could be expending their energies in more productive ways.

After following this coverage I was surprised to learn that lots of PPS schools don't allow costumes. The Buckman coverage made me think they were the ONLY school not doing this. I'm curious why this one school is so unique in the parent's outrage over the this. After I asked around I learned that none of the school age children I know are allowed to wear a costume at school. None of them seem phased, nor do their parents.

If we're looking at process, an alternative explanation to Everett could be that the principal made a decision, lots of people didn't like it but instead of respecting his authority to make the decision they have fought it and that fight has escalated things quite a bit. To the point that he feels extra security is needed because he's afraid someone might get hurt. Over costumes. I'm trying not to take a side in the decision itself by saying that, but it is one explanation of what has happened.

For me, there is a point in the education of my children that they have to learn there are decisions and people that are to be respected by virtue of their position versus when and how to engage in productive protest or disagreement with rules in the most effective way. Challenging status quo and civil disobedience have their places and I want my kids to learn that. But I also want them to learn to discern the difference. I feel in this case that what may have begun as an attempt to productively disagree and obtain change has turned into a full-on spectacle and I don't think it's the children who made that happen.

I am a parent at Buckman. Please stop making this an "issue". Buckman lost funding for their PE teacher, THAT is an issue.

Just have to put out there that the outrage over "armed" police officers seems a bit odd to me. Portland Police are always armed. Everytime an officer enters a school, which is a rather frequent event, there is an armed officer at school. There was an armed officer next to me in the coffee shop this morning. Whether or not having an extra officer or two hanging around Buckman on Monday should be happening or not is one thing, but drawing attention to the fact that they carry a weapon in their everyday work seems to be rather dramatic.

While respecting authority is important and we all need to follow established rules I think that only applies if the rules are just and properly conceived. Top down dictates that seem arbitrary and capricious and those whom lead by decree should be challanged in a Democratic society. It is not the principal's school to whatever he/she wishes although many administrators act like petty dictators overseeing personal fiefdoms.

Just like high school redesign there is no true dialogue with stakeholders in PPS and so no buy in. How can a system work if those in power continually pit themselves against the very people they were hired to serve?

Thanks for putting things in perspective, Amy.

Well, you may not like the direction that any of our holidays have taken - I think the Fourth of July is completely out of hand, and Memorial Day isn't what it should be - but that doesn't mean that the celebrations are not part of our culture. They may not be highbrow, and for many people there may not be much, if any, higher meaning. But at some basic level, they are part of the shared knowledge and experience of where we live. Does that mean you have to celebrate them at school? No, but it's hard to see the rationale of pushing so hard NOT to celebrate it.

Molly and others, thanks for the nuanced debate. (And yes: I thought that Day of the Dead email piece was hilarious! I read it shortly after I'd listened to the Think Out Loud show and couldn't believe how well it poked fun at many email exchanges I've been privy to -- in addition to its obvious relevance to this issue.) It's true that most educators are seeking to make the best decision that balances the desires, hopes, dreams, religion and cultures of their community with the expressed aim of the whole school project: education.

And we do all -- me and the rest of the urbanMamas team included -- need to own our part in the process. I hope that the uM community didn't fan any flames; it's hard not to watch the conflagration, though, when it's right in our neighborhood.

It's useful to think about the context of the many schools in Portland and around the country at which costumes aren't allowed -- and the decisions are made entirely by the administration and unremarked-upon by the parent community (beyond the playground-edge chatter). how did this debate get so out of hand? whoever would leave death threats against a teacher (first) and for such a mild cause (second)? how can we all behave in our own school communities to avoid such horribly escalating debates?

Let's agree that a good approach to any debate between parents and administration is first, second, third, fourth: discussion between the parties involved without taking it public (beyond the among-friends complaint on Facebook or Twitter. sometimes we just need to vent!). how did this go viral? (I don't know myself -- was it a parent's blog post that started it?)

In the grand scheme of things, no matter who took the first step toward bringing this debate outside of the school community, the concerns here are not worth it. Plenty of concerns surely are (well, nothing is worth violent threats, but worth a heated debate perhaps): funding for PE teachers sounds like a good place to start, as funding for librarians might be the right first step in another school, or the way we are raising funds, or what we are serving our kids at lunch. Overcrowded kindergartens. Greater-than-necessary demands on young elementary students. Parent involvement that has agreed-upon benefits for the whole community. Volunteerism that isn't overweighted on just a few parents per school.

Let's save the outrage, then, for something other than the exact content of holiday celebrations. Walk down any school hall and I'm sure you'll find something that's either insensitive or ridiculously over-sensitive to some part of the school community. We could get upset about it -- raise the alarm at the PTA and write blog posts and get on the radio to complain -- or we could just shake our head and laugh to ourselves. Whisper and giggle as you stand by the bike racks waiting for your children to stop swinging on them. Maybe write an ironic fictional piece for the New Yorker.

And let's go enjoy our holiday however we choose to do so (or not) outside of school.

I am a Buckman parent, and just have to chime in that many, many families are completely ok with no costumes at school on Halloween. Many of us are baffled as to how this small issue blew up like crazy when there are so many other things going on in our community that deserve a similar level of outrage (like the loss of a P.E. teacher, as Amy mentioned, as well as the continual looming threat of losing funding for our team of arts teachers).

My daughter's class will be having a Harvest-themed party on Monday with fall and pumpkin related games and crafts. She'll come home to celebrate Halloween in our neighborhood and she couldn't be happier about all of it. She loves Buckman. Today's Grandparent/Special Friend performances were filled with examples of how creativity, imagination, silliness, fun, artistic expression, and inclusion are alive and well at this school each and every day.

It saddens me to see Brian Anderson vilified in the media by people who don't know him or know our school (as well as by some within our own community). Given all that he (and the staff) does to keep our arts program afloat, to have this one decision he made create such a public spectacle is just incredible! Especially given that many principals in Portland make the exact same decision. I think many of us at Buckman are ready to move on and leave this discussion behind.

You start blaming the media, we could just take
a second to be still thankful we have a more
or less free media. I find it odd that the principal said the calls, emails came from outside
the community, and maybe they did, but there were
quite a few signatures on the petition, which
was ignored.

Kelly, I agree with some of what you're saying, but I'm not sure I would call this arbitrary and capricious from what I've read. The decision was actually made last year and plenty of other schools have the same policy, from the sounds of it. I know mine does. I guess I'm of the mind that the principal is charged with making plenty of decisions for the school that I just don't expect to weigh-in on. I like what Molly had to say about that.

A major change in policy is a very different dynamic from accepting a long standing policy that existed when you signed on. Plenty of schools do allow costumes as mine does. My older child loved participating and now my younger ones enjoy it as well. But if I were to change schools and go to one with an established no costume rule and the persuade the principal to make costumes the rule without adequate input from the community and without reference to the history people would rightly be angry.

I have so much to say on this topic I don't know where to begin! I'm a PPS teacher and parent and neither my children's school nor mine celebrates Halloween. I personally am glad about it. I don't agree with the people waxing poetic about the joys of childhood being inextricably linked to wearing a costume at school.

I feel that there is a grain of truth to the sadness about how schools are changing due to high stakes testing (and lack of adequate funding). But I don't think Buckman is a very good example of this change, which is much more evident in schools with a high percentage of students living in poverty. I highly doubt that Buckman is devoid of joy. I suspect they have plenty of chances to creatively express themselves and learn through dramatic play.

I think it is important to learn about other cultures at school and share yours. I don't think that means we have to celebrate holidays. When we play the dreidel game we are not really "celebrating" Hannukah. Likewise we don't have to do any token costume-wearing in order for kids to understand that people have different beliefs in this country (and especially to understand full well what the dominant culture is).

I personally believe that if there are any people that are uncomfortable with Halloween at any school than it should not be celebrated there. I have had Jehovah's Witnesses in my class and I was so happy to be able to tell the parents they don't have to worry- we don't celebrate Halloween. I feel completely and totally that it was the right thing for these sweet kids not to have to stay home for the day, or be excluded. I don't care that they are the minority. I don't believe the right to have fun trumps the right to feel safe and included. They were not dictating to me or my children what we can or can't do. We are in public schools and they are part of our community. I think there is a huge lesson there for the kids at Buckman and a reason to feel proud about their school and this decision.

Finally, I think that a lot of the problem seems to stem from the parents interpretation of their rights, and from how people feel about the principal. I will just say that the district policy is that the decision to celebrate Halloween is up to the administration of each school. It is not up to the taxpayers or the majority rule, or a very vocal group of parents.

And as far as how people feel about the principal, I personally know nothing about him. But I do know that a principal wears many hats and has to have many skill sets. One of those skill sets includes communicating with and relating to the community. I know some principals that are very good at schmoozing with the parents, and I'm sure that is a good skill to have, but it is definitely not how I judge a principal's worth. This principal ruffled feathers in how he made his announcement. Oh well. Maybe he should work at a school that is a little more forgiving. I certainly am glad I don't teach at Buckman after all this.

Feh. I just can't buy any arguments about keeping any kind of issue "private" and "out of the media" in a tax supported public school, or any tax supported institution in a democracy. Please understand - I don't have a dog in this fight, myself. But this issue got wide play in the public because it is perceived by many as being a surprising and frankly ridiculous decision. Yes, losing funding for a teacher is probably a much bigger deal for the community at that particular school. But given the lousy economy and the cash strapped system, it's just one part of a very well-reported and common problem at all kinds of schools these days - not a special little surprise that makes you spit out your coffee in mild shock and derision.

I think there's no question that Principal Andersen made this decision capriciously--and there's NOTHING wrong with questioning authority. It's what democracy is about!

Actually, making a dictatorial decision to please 1% of Buckman's population to the detriment of 99% kinda sounds an awful lot like what many, many brave people are now protesting about nationwide, doesn't it? Again, I support Buckman parents who oppose his decision and I support the OWS movement. It's for ALL of us.

Andersen works FOR the Buckman community and is paid with thier tax dollars, they are his employers and he needs to respect that!

As for working to remove a bad principal: 1) many Buckman parents previously supported him, this was their only issue. Given the extremely poor judgment he's exercised I strongly suspect that has changed. 2) Once again, not a Buckman parent, but a former Atkinson one. We've been trying for well over a year now to reassign our horrible, horrible principal. We've contacted her supervisors, Carole Smith, the Board, everyone---70% of the time we don't even get a response to our requests. Debbie Armendariz is almost universally loathed by parents, students and her entire staff. She routinely violates policy, acts like a dictator and uses public resources to silence her detractors and pursue her own agenda. Guess what? She's still there and probably received a glowing performance review.

As for this decision existing for two years, last year it was accepted only because costumes supposedly conflicted with other events. The parnets at the time accepted Andersen's decision, but also made it very, very clear that if he pursued it this year, they'd oppose it. He went ahead and ignored them.

This gets attention because it's a somewhat well known school--plus it's a bit unusual for an arts focused school in possibly the most progressive neighborhood in a progressive city would act liek this. Addiitonally the parents were loud and vocal in their opposition. Again, I wish we had been more vocal, much earlier at Atkinson.

And that said, last year, even Atkinson's pricipal ultimately relented. Sarah's completely correct--this is about Brian Andersen's power trip. And if he's like this over costumes, what will he be like over more important things?

BTW, our tax dollars also pay for police officers' salaries. They are NOT "protecting and serving" the people of Portland by acting like Costume Storm Trooper Nazis. Plus seriously, their resources are stretched enough as it is. For Brian Andersen to use public resources to enforce his petty agenda is beyond disgusting!

Oh, P.S. to the teacher who is happy not to be at Buckman because the principal "ruffled a few feathers" and the parents aren't "forgivng":

1) HE'S the one who has escalated this. He could've, at any time, reversed policy and all of this would go away.

2) He's extremely well paid (most principals earn well over six figures, before benefits of MY tax dollars) to "schmooz" parents. Most people earn less than half of what he does and have to kiss waaaay more butt.

3) I would put in "skill set" for a pricipal diplomacy and decision making abilities as possibly the two top attributes to posess. Brian Andersen's actions in this have fully revealed just how deeply he is lacking in these two areas. Oh--and use of resources can be ruled out since police officers will be busy terrozing small children and thier parents on Monday if they dare to express their free speech/expression rights. As opposed to, you know, fighting crime and stuff.

This is such a fascinating dialogue, no matter
what position you take, or if you see both sides
equally. I just hate to think now the finger will
be pointed at anyone for the perceived need to
bring in the school police on 10/31. I just wanted
to add that many feel that America is just a crumbling empire - our kids are falling behind
academically, we are a debtor nation, we have two
political parties which seem to only polarize the
nation and keep us stuck in our tracks from moving
forward. I think many would like now to run backwards, to a time where we felt more secure,
more optimistic. Memories of childhood traditions
can take us back to that place. Maybe it was just
a sense of nostalgia that made some people rally
behind this issue - but it seems, however small
an issue, to be just the tip of an iceburg on other, maybe more pressing issues. I wholeheartedly believe it is mainly around money,
as teachers are under severe pressure to get kids
to measure up well on standardized tests, and
then somehow, have this measure the worth of a teacher. That is all I am going to forever say on
this issue, but to me it all goes back to money.

Joan, not sure how it goes back to money since allowing kids to dress up doesn't cost the school a freakin' penny. And it DOES cost the city of Portland a LOT to have plice officers there.

To be honest, these exact same arguments (and some other fears like Commies taking over everything) about the USA were made when I was a child (I'm 46), though our middle class is admitted shrinking. I'm even more positive there was quite a bit more concern along these lines in 1930's, when the economy was in a much worse state. And kids were allowed to wear costumes to school then.

I am most assuredly NOT nostalgic for times when sexism was more rampant, racism was fine, etc....but I also think it's perfectly fine for a kid to wear a costume at school.

I don't think this issue has anything to do with money, it's all about power, control and authority. Andersen has put himself in, honestly, a pissing match with Buckman parents---which he continues to escalate, all the detriment of innocent children.

a teacher, I counldn't disagree with you more.

It's EVERYWHERE!
"Davino today reversed his earlier decision to ban costumes, saying he was responding to public pressure in the Union County town and the fact that schools hold Halloween parties."
http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2011/10/springfield_superintendent_rev.html

BTW, a bit of research reveals that Andersen's motivation for the ban stems from his previous school. Apparently he was principal at Kelly, where the 40% Russian population stayed home on Halloween.

While I can see showing support for what might even be a plurality of your previous school, it makes no sense to create the exact same policy at a VERY different school. Kelly is a very poor (75% free or reduced lunch) school in outer SE/Lents with a large immigrant and minority population. Conversely Buckman is boho, educated and middle class. There's probably like one or two Russian families, TOTAL.

Showing sensitivity starts with understanding the demographics of your community and adjusting your approach to suit the differences.

I LOVED what 'a teacher' said. well said!!! @zumpie, it's not really in good taste to badmouth people by name on a public forum, it's not becoming.
'nuff said.

Who exactly did I badmouth---aside from educators' whose very performance is precisely what this forum is about? By nature of their positions (and subsequent unpopular actions), they've chosen to make themselves public figures. With that comes scrutiny and criticism.

If they don't want this, they should find new careers or at least be more responsive and less stubbron in their behavior.

Lol, maybe you should re-read it. I thought, wow, am I back in high school? And omg, this whole costume thing is SO overblown, wow I can't believe adults are acting this way.:(

Oh, also, too, also: by free expression definiton my kid has every right to dress up as a princess or pirate if they want to because it doesn't violate the actual PPS dress code--which I'd even debate as being a free speech violation, since this IS a public school). So long as they don't force, snub or ridicule YOUR kid for not doing so how is it even remotely your or your kid's business what MY kid wears, anyway?

I did reread it. I found you to appear to be rather fond of oppressive authority and censorship, actually. And I beg to differ--it's a free speech/abuse of authority issue. Something that I find to be quite important.

Yeah why would adults in a democratic society actively debate issues and have opinions as opposed to just passively accepting dictates? Don't they know they should only advocate for positions that others deem relevant?

ok, you two, I think you both have interesting points of view and perspectives to add to this debate. sadly, we've reached the point at which the universal theme is being shimmied into a dress meant for a personal argument. I'm going to have to ask you to agree to disagree.

A just have one question regarding this topic: If Halloween is so not appropriate because it apparently is religious and not everyone can afford a costume, than how do all Portland parents feel about kids giving christmas presents to teachers. I personally thing that is much more wrong than Halloween at school. For one thing christmas really is a religious holiday and there really are kids that can't afford gift cards for every teacher. Besides, I don't get a gift card for doing my job, why should a teacher get them. If there is anything that should be banned, it is teachers accepting gifts from students (other than a drawing or a home made card) not halloween.

aj, while I have given gifts to teachers in the past that I liked, I definitely see your point. It also (again) sets up significant inequity between teachers at wealthy schools and teachers at poor ones.

I'll also add since Jehovah's Witnesses were mentioned upthread as being "spared" Halloween--then that needs to extend to everything else they disagree with. Under that argument, you need to not observe or even mention birthdays in class (JW don't celebrate birthdays) or say the Pledge of Allegiance (which, BTW, I'm less than crazy about myself)..

BUT most teachers and school adminstrators LIKE those things: who doesn't enjoy recieving a gift, birthdays offer student recognition and the Pledge encourages citizenship and dutiful conformity---so we don't hear a whole lot about "sensitivity" or bans on those issues.

Its funny but a 'a teachers' rationale for banning costumes is the much the same as that being forwarded as a reason to ban breast feeding in public places (just look at comments around the web concerning the nurse in). I wonder at what point the discomfort of having to tolerate the choices of others becomes a basis for banning benign and even positive behaviour? At some point in the public sphere people will act in a way with which you don't approve but if their actions do not constitute a threat,etc...why should your bias be legislated just to make you more comfortable?

Kelly, ITA---and again my strong position on this is all about free speech. I'll make another example: we have two different dudes on our block who labor under the extremely gross misconception that they're "hot". So they routinely wander about the neighborhood shirtless in the summertime.

The hubby and I also routinely snicker to one another about going blind, eeewww, etc. But we're also fully aware that it's entirely thier right to walk around shirtless and would never say a thing about it. I also hate how one of them keeps their property, but not my business, either.

Ironcially, the super hot guy on our block (he's a model) always has his shirt on.

In other news, just read some of the nursing comments you referred to. Wow, what complete turds.

Dude, Zumpie I was agreeing with your stance. Perhaps a reread of my post? Unless you are advocated banning something and I missed that?

Kelly, I know you were---that's why I wrote ITA--In Total Agreement! :-) And I don't think you're a turd at all, I think the people who posted mean things about nice ladies feeding their babies are.

Sorry, if I came across as anything other than supporting YOU, cause I totally do!

I am not a Buckman parent, but my child does go to a PPS. My child's school does not do costumes, either, and no one at our school is making it a big deal at all. It is what it is.

I told my child about this whole costume fight earlier, and as a first grader, she said, "Those parents are having a tantrum. If someone in my class couldn't dress up, I wouldn't dress up, either." Way to go sweet child, that's exactly the compassion I'd like to see. But then, my child has been excluded before due to a medical condition, so she gets what that feels like to be in a minority.

The administrators are paid to make these decisions. It's like any public service - you may not agree with the decision, but the people in those positions are at liberty to make and interpret rules. And, they were hired because they presumably have some experience in school administration.

Costumes at school frankly has nothing to do with the first amendment right to free speech. It would be like someone going to school or showing up at their job completely naked. They could claim free speech, but the fact is we have rules as a society that say public nudity is "indecent exposure" (not saying I necessarily agree, but, the rule is there). Same goes for whoever threw the jar of poop at the courthouse. Free speech? I saw a guy totally high walking around in the middle of a busy street flipping off drivers and yelling and screaming. Does his right to free speech make that OK?

See where I am going? Everything can be construed as a first amendment right but if everyone went around doing anything they wanted, it simply wouldn't work. There is a reason we have rules, and we pay those administrators to make and enforce those rules.

I totally agree with "A teacher" and anon#999. This costume issue is completely overblown. Please take this energy and put it towards something that matters... like raising money for school programs, PE, enrichment, etc. And start modeling some compassion and adult behavior for your children.

yay, Anotheranon, thank you for posting!!I totally agree with you. Sadly, I'm guessing two of the, ah, more active posters above are going to jump all over your post in nasty, parsing-it-out ways, so I wanted to give you a few props. I, for one, am going to stop reading this thread and move my own energy elsewhere. (Sweet, compassionate child you have :) )

Actually, it's frequently quite debatable how qualified the adminstrators are---and guess what? As a member of a free and democratic society, I am fully within my rights to question public policy and seek to revise it when I disagree with it, just like the parents at Buckman are currently doing.

Your argument is largely one of "well they were hired, so I'll obey them". Well, honestly, if one disagrees with an authority figure about something largely administrative, then it's our right and duty to challenge that. There are entire legacies of ordinances that have been challenged because they're outdated, ridiculous and unfair.

As for your analogy about nudity, that's a considerable stretch---a costume ban is an adminstrative dictate, made by someone we didn't elect, but whose choices affect our community. Nudity laws (and FYI, there are areas that one can be nude in public) are voted on or enacted by those who we vote into office (and have potential public health ramifications). Even using the dress code argument, costumes don't violate the dress code, nudity laws do.

And honestly,it sounds to me more like your daughter wants to fit in than anything else (which is fine). And that would be HER choice, just as kids who do want to dress up should have that choice. See? Again--freedom. It's a good thing.

As for tantrums: I'd say a very stubborn principal who refuses to do what his community wants and has now escalated and retaliated is the biggest toddler in the room. All to enforce HIS viewpoint. That's dictatorial abuse of power--a BAD thing.

BTW, I don't think my ability to effectively argue my point is "nasty"---I'm just a good debater. who bases her argument on the law, not the need to conform.

As for directing energy elsewhere---honestly, who are you to decide for me or anyone else what is or isn't important? I view free speech and expression as VERY important and the foundation of our society. I also direct my energy in other venues, as well--and don't need to justify that. I feel I model standing up for things and fighting for my beliefs for my daughter.

Plus how is it more "compassionate" to teach a child they must subvert their will and wishes for a tiny minority, who they don't agree with, just because someone says they should?

I ask again---if my kid wears a costume and doesn't in any way otherwise influence your kid to wear a costume, how is that your business?

Oh, also, too, also: the argument of "well they were hired so they know more than you do" is A) completely flimsy even on its surface (incompetent, inept people are routinely hired for positions they routinely fail in) but B) absolutely worthless after futher examination.

Evenly publicly, PPS comes under regular fire for wasteful use of resources, poor judgment and pushing their own agenda. Privately, I'm friends with a former PPS HR Manager.

Her experience was one of gross corruption, cronyism and political favoritism. She now works elsewhere and maintains a watchdog blog on them. She also says adminstrators there are often inept, unqualified and sometimes don't even have to interview for their positions.

Kinda questions the "he knows better than you" argument, doesn't it?

I can personally attest to Atkinson's principal being laughably incompetent at her job on almost every level. She also lacked the usual teaching requirements, had questionable education credentials and fails in her performance. We were given NO opportunity to weigh in on her selection (in violation of PPS's own policy, BTW). So yeah, I'll question her decisions that I disagree with every chance I get!

Zumpie - we'll agree to disagree on this one.

I hope everyone has a happy halloween.

I think that the brouhaha shows the class and equity differences that are rampant in PPS. At a Titlt I school, parents do not expect that because they do not like a policy that they can have it overturned. I think there should be a district-wide policy against it since so many families cannot participate. No one is stopping you from buying/making costumes and trick or treatin'. I don't remember going to school in costume as a child, it was an afterschool thing. Equity means that sometimes you give up things for the greater good.

When we transferred from a marquee special focus school to a Title I school, we gave up some stuff. We also got better treatment on the whole as a family of color. But certain stuff got stuck in my craw. I remember after an evening event, dinner was served. In keeping with the school culture, parents were served first and the children were served last, separately. My daughter walked past the other children to join me in line. A teacher told her she had to stay with the other children. She looked at him like he was crazy, and continued walking. The teacher grabbed her backpack and pulled her back. i looked up to see my daughter crying and a teacher yelling at her. I ran to her, and talked about ridiculousness of the policy. He started lecturing me about "we do so much for you parents and no one appreciates it" He didn't know I was on the PTO, and made a LOT of assumptions. Yes, he clearly had other issues. From my point of privilege, I was like "How dare you?" I went home and wrote a long email to the vice-principal. I was HOT. None of the other parents had an issue, as many came from homes where this was not unusual.

I say all this to say, again, equity means the haves sometimes give up some privileges for the have nots to have more. And that if this is the sword that the Buckman parents have to fall on, they should know what a privilege that is.

I honestly think it comes down to whether you/your child celebrate/enjoy the holiday... if you like it, then it's all a day of fun. If not, then it's not comfortable. I never was into it as a kid.. not for religious reasons, but just wasn't interested. I wasn't comfortable (in more than one way) in a costume for a whole day, but also wasn't secure in my choice if I didn't wear one. Either way it was too self-concious... what are you going to be, or else, why are you not dressed up? Too much pressure and competition out to acquire and sport a 'cool' (or at least acceptable) costume. It would have been a relief to me to be without that. Not that there couldn't be a school party for those who would appreciate it, but that is not the same as the whole class doing it for a day. That could be fun because it would be a special event instead of your classroom becoming something else for a day.

ProtestMama--Atkinson IS a Title 1 school (with a large Hispanic population). We had Halloween costumes and parties with our previous principal.All the Latino kids were totally into it.

Last year, when the new principal sought to ban costumes, the entire Atkinson rose up against her--and made her walk it back. This year she's enforcing it---as a punishment to the parents who continue to oppose her policies they disagree with.

We also have a blog entirely about our issues with her and District Offices hear from us on a VERY regular basis. Atkinson is VERY diverse ---economically (their are kids whose parents are reknowed wealthy surgeons, there are kids whose parents are entirely on public assistance), but our issues with her kinda united us.

Plus we felt no need to "give up" our civil rights or our childrens'. In fact it's frequently the crux of our complaints against her.

To say, essentially, "well free speech is only a high class problem" is a mite inaccurate.


As to what your child celebrates is comfortable with--my daughter's very non-athletic. She's clumsy and uncoordinated. Yet she's always been made to play sports (which she's uncomfortable with) at school. Plus most schools have teams, which receive much recognition and glory, as well as funds.

Under the logic of "I don't like Halloween so other kids can't wear costumes", sports should be eliminated entirely from schools. Physical fitness can be promoted through exercise versus team sports--or (as they do at her current, awesome, costume allowing school, Da Vinci) dance and alternative phys ed.

Also, again, using that same logic---I find both the Pledge and the Star Spangled Banner (glorification of war to an old drinking tune) objectionable--as do Jehovah's Witnesses (and other religious groups). I really doubt there'll be any bans of either of those any time soon.

I just returned from a halloween parade at school and I kept reflecting on this discussion while watching the kids have a truly wonderful time. I happen to know a family who does not celebrate Halloween and so I sought them out and saw heir kids were dressed as "Ducks fans" in their spirit wear and a family in our class who are anti-sugar since the mom is a naturopath brought an awesome vegetable platter,lol. Some costumes were handmade, others store bought, some elaborate some very minimal but the kids didn't seem to care. I feel grateful that we can come together and have a nice time and that each family found a way to be true to themselves and still part of the community. I think that's a real lesson in tolerance, compassion and joy of living.

@Kelly, how completely awesome! Thank you for that! Now THERE would be community, equity and inclusion (and put a very nice image in my mind). :-)

There are so many protections working in the public sector. What has been interesting to me was
the complaint about the loss of the PE teacher at
Buckman. Seems maybe we could cut some of the ad-
ministrative fat and hire more teachers.

Funny - I just got back from our school celebration. No costumes - just a short art project and healthy snack. (there are healthy snacks at all school parties - no candy cupcakes, etc). The kids had a blast. I talked to a few parents before the celebration and they all laughed at this whole costume issue. They said - yeah, costumes would be fun but really, it is distracting, and eh, the kids can dress up after school and celebrate. No biggie. This is a PPS.

In fact, my kids are already in their costumes and counting down the minutes until the sun goes down. Their day was in no way diminished by not wearing costumes at school.

There was no ill will, everyone was happy, etc. The general consensus was that this isn't the hill to die on.

If you are unhappy with your administrator, by all means, make the complaints. I've certainly confronted teachers and administrators about issues before. But remember in the process that you catch more flies with honey. Storming in with guns blazing over first amendment rights is generally not the way to get things accomplished. It just puts people on the defensive. There is a way to be kind and constructive about your criticism. Make them feel like you are all on the same team and working towards a solution to the same goals, together. Remember, these are the people with whom you leave your child day in and day out. Having them on your side is a good thing.

Anotheranon, I'm glad your children enjoyed the way your school handled things---my daughter and her Da Vinci wouldn't have had nearly as fun a day without costumes, though.

That said, you make quite a few assumptions about how those of us who do question things approach them. Obviously, we've all initially approached thngs from a positive stance and attitude. I can personally say I never had any issues with Atkinson's previous principal. Prior to this, the moms at Buckman who circulated the petition had actually LIKED their principal.

I worked in sales and am now a marketing manager---I most assuredly know how to make super nice-y nice and persuade people. One of the most basic rules is understanding your target market. In each case the principals assumed what worked for one community, would work for another. That's patently absurd. Had the administrators been willing to work with and accommodate their new communities, I'm sure we wouldn't be having this discussion.

In each case it's been a principal who forced their views on an unwilling community--and refused to listen to any dissent. That puts the responsibility firm on their shoulders. They're also the ones who escalated the conflict.

PR and community relations are an important element of their jobs. They blew it.

At our school, the kindergarten classes united for a costume parade through the other classrooms with the big kids, the library with the librarian and then around the entire block. The principal stood by the office - in tuxedo and cape and slightly bloody fangs - waving and saying things like How cute! By the school's edict, the snacks were indeed healthy and allergen free - the big hit was half-bananas on popsicle sticks with raisin faces that looked like angry little ghosts. I was in charge of the pumpkin carving, using some of the pumpkins we gathered during the class trip to a farm last week. I also helped with the spider making - lots of kids had trouble making the accordion pleated legs.
This school is diverse, ethnically and economically. I'll estimate that roughly a third of the families do not come from western/Christian cultures that celebrate Halloween, All Souls orDay of the Dead.
So, is a day like this a "distraction" from school? I can tell you that every child in our class was present. And it felt just like the similarly diverse parade that's going on outside right now - a bonding experience that lets beaming adults love the extra cute, extra excited dressed up kids and lets the beaming kids feel that love. If you've got that in school, I'd say you are going to be a lot happier about teaching and learning every other day that you are there.

My school does not have... teacher gifts- other than maybe a handmade card or an item for the clasroom (like a book)... sports teams- yes, our physical fitness -IS- exercise!... the Pledge or the National anthem.
Just not sure what any of those had to do with the issue. My point is that none of those lasts ALL DAY. A whole day can feel awful. A party where they put them on for an hour would be a whole different game.

My point about these things are either offensive to some or elitist/inequitable (or both!), including precisely the groups supposedly being "protected" from Halloween. Yet few, if any schools would ever even entertain banning these things.

While they might not last an entire day, they ARE there every day---so one could argue the impact is more, not less, because it isn't a one day thing, it's pervasive and endless.

anon, your day also sounds simply lovely---with an enlightened, sensitive principal who actually wants kids to be happy, not programmed little PC zombies.

Yes, some schools do 'ban' teacher gifts. And competitive sports teams. The only one of those things that could be daily is the Pledge. Unless you have daily PE... which would be amazing. One of my high school teachers had a great idea for the pledge- instead we did a Patriotic Moment of student's choice... you could sing, give a speech, read an inspirational passage, etc. PE often (though admittedly not always, this was the 80's!) had a choice for simply 'walking' for the non-sportsy. My kid's PE is all of an hour a week (seems so little?) and they rotate for about 10 minutes through 3 activities then have 'free time'. Not every child likes it or wants to do it, but I don't think they are feeling -uncomfortable- or being offended.

It doesn't seem like there was a middle-of-the-road option on the table. Instead of allowing costumes all day, could they have done a short party in the afternoon? Could there have been an 'extra costume exchange' for those who forgot or weren't able to get any? Could a party have been about something else like fall in general, with a quick costume parade before or after? There are so many options that could please most of the community. Did they try for some gray area, or was it all or nothing with the decision?

Just to set the record straight, this year at Atkinson the principal did NOT "enforce" a costume ban. There wasn't a peep said about it. Some kids came dressed up, no one got sent home. We had a wonderful parade AFTER school, organized by the PTA, where the kids let loose and had a grand time. There were apples and popcorn balls and music and lots and lots of costumes. There was no discontent. Things are going pretty darned well there this year.

Raven, I'm glad that's your experience, but I can tell you there are plenty of other Atkinson parents who felt the costume ban was implemented, did protest and do NOT feel that things are going well at all.

While Debbie might've walked back her ban (just as she did last year---she had already made many children feel they could not wear their costumes.

One mom described the atmosphere to me as "heartbreaking", another told me about Debbie screaming at all the kids at an assembly because they applauded the school counselor more enthusiastically than they did for Ms. Armendariz, herself.

Teaching staff is still miserable and fear for their jobs--they've adapted a position of "keep your head down" to avoid the termination others who challenged her last year received.

If things have gotten a bit better, it's only because there's a new administrator, who has pledged to hold her accountable.

Raven: it's pretty darned well from my perspective, too. The parade, snacks and after-school party outside--where kids were often acting "in character" while wearing their costumes (I got hit in the leg with a light saber, but just laughed)--made for a great extracurricular activity.

When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If you have it in for the administrator or the school, there is not much they can do right. The lack of costume at any given school, is not "heartbreaking" to me. DaVinci was horribly repressive and inequitablee when my daughter went there, in terms of what we needed (the then-prinicipal scapegoating children of color and free and reduced lunch kids for lowered school performnace IN THE NEWSLETTER) sealed our decision ton leave after one year. The chilkdren were extraordinarily sexualized and my daughter was bullied mercilessly about her weight and developed an eating disorder losing 26 pounds in 3 months. The children were more entitled and more rude than any I have encountered at a Title I school. That was several years and a few principals ago. Now if you talk to me you would get one impression, if you talk to another parent whose child thrived in that environment or is vicariously living their own dream of going to the FAME school, you might get a different one.

Other parents love daVinci now and did then and could give a rip about the inequity back then. daVinci was a "heartbreaking" place for us and I believed the principal was "less than awesome" despite repeated efforts to communicate. He has moved on to other pastures and I shudder to think of the "have-nots" at this current school. My opinion is no more or less valid the zumpie's is about their principal.

I apologize for going off-topic, but I feel that this topic is getting kind of hijacked already. I just want to say that I'm an Atkinson parent, and while I understand that some very vocal parents despise the principal, I feel that she's being unfairly described here as some kind of demented martinet, which has not been my experience at all. So if there are any of you out there in the Atkinson catchment area who are getting alarmed by the comments on this site, please be aware that they are not representative of everybody's Atkinson experience.

@ProtestMama, wow, I'm really, really sorry for your daughgter! My daughter was just horribly bullied at Atkinson, so I do understand how painful that can be.

That said, while there are some teachers with whom I'd take issue on fairness at Da Vinci, thus far I've been stunned by the amazing action that taken over any form of bullying, complaints, etc. My daughter's a mite chubby, too--no one's said a thing to her about it. I've never seen her so confident. In fact the only real issue I have is that she's TOO socially comfortable and has been neglecting her work.

But I really do feel horribly for your daughter's bad experience. And hope things are much, much better for her now.

BTW, one of my daughter's biggest bullies at Atkinson was her principal. I had never even contacted district offices prior to last year. Things were so bad that A) much of the reason my daughter was ultimately hardshipped into Da Vinci was because of our experience with Ms Armendariz. B)for a good while I was making weekly calls to her supervisor.

I'm honestly glad not everyone has/had the issues with her that I did. But I'm also far from the only one who does. And I stand behind everything I said. I'm not getting personal---she did all of the above and much, much more. Oh--and I have company from her one year at Arleta, as well.

Oh, also ProtestMama--"heartbreaking" was not costumes (or lack there of) that the particular parent was referring to. Her comment was regarding the bullying, oppressive atmosphere at Atkinson in general.

FYI, their family is far from wealthy, she never had issues until Ms. Armendariz arrived and she's thus far thrilled with her older daughter's experience at---Da Vinci!!!

And absolute last thing: I would never want to vicariously go to "The Fame School" (then Performing Arts, now merged with Music and Art to form the High School of the Arts). I went to Stuyvesant, the "brain school" (math and science focus, special exam, second only to Hunter Campus). We viewed PA and MA as where the dumb kids went.

Of course, totally snotty, but we were kinda insular---even though some of us (myself and my best friend) were super poor and some were quite wealthy. No one really cared or noticed.

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