There was good news in Fairfax County yesterday for the broomstick industry.
The annual procession of pint-size witches, ghosts and goblins went on as usual at Oak View Elementary School, despite the efforts of a group of parents who want Halloween, including all traces of witches, ghosts and goblins, banned from public schools. Such things, they have told the county school officials, encourage an unhealthy interest in the occult.
Although Principal Peter Manno had agreed several weeks ago to lighten some of Halloween's darker side (he dressed as a football player yesterday instead of a devil) the childlike predilection for shivers and spooks held the day.
For 20 festive minutes yesterday, the cinderblock halls of the school south of Fairfax City was filled with bedsheeted ghosts, little witches in flowing acetate capes and any number of giggling goblins.
"I'm a witch!" said 7-year-old Juli Ann Renk, shocked that there could be any doubt. "It's fun! It's scary!" Princesses walked with space invaders, kings with skeletons.
It was the adults and teachers who seemed the most relieved that Halloween hadn't been spirited away by the criticism. Two tall, raven-haired witches, sporting warts and chartreuse skin, cackled with satisfaction. "This is the way I dressed last year, this is the way I come this year," room mother and parent Debbie Rowe said firmly.
"Halloween is a day for witches and goblins," agreed fellow room mother Joan Carson. "Most parents feel this fuss is silly. It's just a small minority pushing."
"It's a tradition," teacher Harry Ibbotson said emotionally. "I hate to see it taken away from the kids."
The effort to banish Halloween from the halls of academe in the county began more than a year ago, when a group of parents, identifying themselves as "Christian Citizens of Fairfax," presented a petition with several hundred signatures to the county school board.
In the petition, and a similar letter mailed to school principals this year, the parents objected to schools displaying witches, ghosts and goblins . . . "and the costuming of faculty members as these same creations," as "offensive to our Lord and our Christian beliefs." Encouraging children to dress up as devils and witches, they argued, might foster devil worship and curiosity about the occult. Pumpkins were permissible.
The protest had centered on Oak View Elementary, a two-story brick school on Sideburn Road, because several of the parents had children enrolled there.
"I do not celebrate Halloween," said Susan Seraydarian, a Fairfax mother of three who pushed for the restrictions. "It's a matter of education . . . . Halloween was a pagan holiday that celebrated death. It honored a deity, the lord of the dead. It just seems inappropriate to be celebrating death . . . . There are plenty of other things to celebrate."
After meeting with the group of six or seven parents, Principal Manno this year had told his teachers to refrain from assigning Halloween artwork with witches or goblins, and from telling scary stories.
"I just said to the teachers, don't lead them the children ," Manno said.
Although a few parents have objected strenuously to the ban-Halloween effort, Manno said he took action because he didn't believe the parents who objected to the school's usual costume parade were trying to bully anyone.
"I think they were sincerely expressing their belief. It didn't hurt us to accommodate them a little," he said.
Not everyone was so sanguine. One parent wrote angrily to Manno saying he resented the attempt to make Halloween an issue. Parents also argued that Halloween is a secular, rather than a religious holiday, and that children in witch hats aren't thinking about the devil.
"I think this is all much ado about nothing," said fifth-grade teacher Gerri Buchanan, as she led her children back to class. "I'm wearing a witch hat because it's a fun thing. The children wear them because they like them."
Seraydarian and the other petitioners disagree. For them, Halloween is religion, albeit the wrong kind. If nativity scenes are not allowed in schools at Christmas, Seraydarian said, "Then why is it okay to celebrate the dark side?"
Susan Seraydarian's daughter marched in the parade yesterday, dressed as a bunny. And all three Seraydarian children are campaigning to be allowed to trick or treat this weekend.
"We're still debating it," she said. "I don't know if they'll go or not."