Education

Elementary school in Sacramento area cancels all its Halloween festivities. Here’s why

An elementary school in Sacramento County has canceled all things Halloween this year, after many families opted out of the annual celebrations over the years.

An email from Principal Jason Farrel of North Country Elementary School in Antelope states that classrooms will no longer have Halloween parties, the school will not have a Halloween parade, and students and staff will not wear costumes to school. The change seeks “to ensure what is best for all of our students,” read Farrel’s letter, sent to all parents.

The school district said North Country is respecting those within the community who do not celebrate Halloween for various reasons.

According to a statement from Center Joint Unified School District to The Sacramento Bee, “Halloween has traditionally been a low attendance day at North Country.” Last year, about a quarter of parents — which translated to more than 100 students — chose to withhold their children from Halloween day events at school, the district said.

Farrel also noted that the K-6 school is working to “increase student learner outcomes and reduce absenteeism.” According to the California School Dashboard, more than 10 percent of students at North Country Elementary are chronically absent, and the number was on the rise as of 2018. The state average for chronic absenteeism is 9 percent.

The school declined to comment on the letter, and referred all inquiries to the district.

“We have consistently respected the right of families to choose to have their children participate, or not, in such celebrations,” read the district’s statement to The Bee. “However, when the number of students choosing to not participate becomes significant, it is incumbent on the school leadership to re-evaluate and determine if the event is truly meeting the social and academic needs of its student population.”

The school will hold a spirit day instead on Oct. 31, where students are encouraged to wear black, orange or purple. The district also said an evening harvest festival will take place.

“I appreciate and thank you for your ongoing support and understanding as we work to live our school mission, to empower learners and inspire leaders in a safe and nurturing community,” Farrel said in his letter.

North Country Elementary parent Ayah Beshnak, who came to the U.S. from Syria in 2013, said Friday she began celebrating Halloween with her children as they grew older. She said she doesn’t object to the Halloween celebrations, and her three children participate in the parade every year. Her son dressed up as Bumblebee from “Transformers” last year and a chicken the year before.

“They are going to have fun,” she said. “I don’t see why it should be canceled.”

But parent Tamara Koryaka said she supported the school’s decision to cancel the celebrations. In past years, she said, she would pick her three children up early so they didn’t have to join in the parade.

“I didn’t like the images associated with the holiday,” she said. “If it was just nice costumes and candy I would be OK with it. But it’s skeletons and scary things, and some kids don’t sleep at night.”

Koryaka emigrated from the former Soviet Union decades ago and said her family embraced holidays like Thanksgiving. Halloween, she said, takes away from the kids’ education, and that’s what school should be about.

Elsewhere in the U.S., some schools reportedly have canceled their Halloween festivities because it’s not a holiday celebrated by all students and their families.

Some schools in the Chicago suburb of Evanston, Ill., canceled Halloween parties this year in an effort to be inclusive, according to a report Tuesday by Today.com.

“We are also aware of the range of inequities that are embedded in Halloween celebrations that take place as part of the school day and the unintended negative impact that it can have on students, families, and staff,” read a statement by Evanston/Skokie School District 65 dated Sept. 27.

In 2017, several Massachusetts schools canceled Halloween celebrations over concerns about the events not being inclusive, according to a story on sacbee.com. Administrators expressed concern that some families chose to keep their children at home because they were not comfortable with the traditional class parties and parade .

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Sawsan Morrar covers school accountability and culture for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in Sacramento and is an alumna of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She previously freelanced for various publications including The Washington Post, Vice, KQED and Capital Public Radio.
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