The Halloween tradition of enjoying mild scares in social settings has been supplemented for years by a trend toward removing an ever-growing list of risks.
Galloway Township schools are the latest example. The superintendent and board of education canceled the popular student costume parades at the K-to-8 schools because of an inability to provide the usual level of student safety and security at them.
Parents objected to the loss of the annual event, for which some kids already had their costumes, and asked school officials to reinstate the parades. Despite getting a petition with more than 1,100 signatures to do so, they declined.
School officials said they couldn’t know who was in the large parade crowds and manage them to ensure student safety. Schools nowadays are expected to screen all visitors and provide a secure environment, and that level of security for an outdoor crowd interacting with students is impossible.
Safety is just one concern that has restricted school celebrations of Halloween over the years. Others include differing family attitudes and spending, inappropriate costumes and too much interference with instruction.
Egg Harbor Township schools were an early restrictor of the holiday. In 2003, they banned costumes and masks from Halloween parties at the intermediate school. One parent said her daughter cried herself to sleep after hearing she couldn’t wear her angel costume. Middle and high school kids could still get costumed, but without a full face mask or any kind of toy weapon.
Two years later Hammonton canceled the Halloween parades for pre-K through first grades and substituted a new widespread alternative — Black and Orange Day, inviting students to dress in those colors. Safety was the principle concern, including parents failing to check out their children when leaving but also costumes tripping students or masks blinding them to dangers.
Halloween nationwide got swept up in the movement to improve school nutrition next. In Margate schools and many others in 2006, teachers had to get permission to use candy corn even as a decoration. Eating it or any other candy in schools was federally proscribed, but cupcakes were OK.
Elementary schools in Springfield, Union County, in 2011 ended Halloween celebrations because they were a distraction from school work.
By 2013, Education World magazine reported that many districts nationwide had eliminated parades and costumes, often citing social, financial and cultural differences among families as the reasons. In Pennsylvania, some schools also saw bans as maintaining the separation of church and state, even though the religious holiday is actually All Saints Day that immediately follows.
Galloway school officials have held firm so far, but those in Charlotte, Michigan, last week bowed to parental pressure and reversed the ban on parties and costumes they had announced this month.
One thing worth celebrating is that most of the school Halloween decisions have remained local so far. That permits variety to accommodate local customs and practices.
But some changes are inevitable everywhere, particularly on safety and security.
That’s spilling over into the most secular of holidays, the upcoming Election Day. To protect students, Linwood schools are no longer hosting voter polling stations, and Galloway is giving students the day off and keeping the polling at schools.