Halloween — unless one’s religion deems it satanic, sinful and worthy of godly condemnation — conjures images of carefree children dressed as witches, goblins, or Elsa from “Frozen,” skipping down sidewalks amid the rustle of fall leaves, rushing to the next house where, if luck holds, a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup instead of a packet of dried-out raisins awaits.
But, in Milford, Conn., Halloween now has another association: a PC, PR catastrophe.
Last week, elementary schools in the city of 52,000 that tried to limit celebration of the holiday to protect those who might not wish to participate faced accusations that they were trying to ban Halloween. As a result, they’ve walked the restrictions back — under protest.
The drama began on Oct. 9, when one principal made it known that one tradition — a costume parade in school during school hours — would end.
“Halloween parades will not take place in any Milford elementary schools,” read a letter signed by Rosemarie Marzinotto, principal of Milford’s Live Oaks School, as Fox CT noted. “This decision arose out of numerous incidents of children being excluded from activities due to religion, cultural beliefs, etc. School-day activities must be inclusive. Halloween costumes are not permitted for students or staff during the day at school.”
Okay — what if students didn’t have a school-wide Halloween parade, but just celebrated with candy in their classrooms? Forget it.
“Any type of classroom activity will be decided by the teacher and must be fall themed, not Halloween,” Marzinotto wrote. “Food is not an option.”
The outcry was immediate. It was as if truth, justice and the American way were under assault.
“I think it’s crazy,” Victoria Johannsen, mother of a third-grader at Live Oaks School, told the Connecticut Post. She added: “I don’t think we’re excluding anybody. … I think they’re excluding themselves.”
Faced with the backlash, Jim Richetelli, the chief operations officer for Milford Public Schools, claimed “no direct knowledge” of Halloween protocols. But he took a moment to defend diversity.
“Milford Public Schools do have many children from diverse beliefs, cultures and religions,” he said. “The goal is for all children to feel comfortable and definitely not alienated when they come to school.”
Within hours, an online petition appeared: “Bring back our AMERICAN traditions to our schools!”
“This is just not right,” Rebecca Lilley wrote. “Growing up in America there are certain traditions and celebrations we have become accustomed to celebrating at home and during school! Saying the pledge of allegiance, Halloween parades, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah celebrations, New years, Valentines day parties and dances and Easter. These are our American customs and traditions and we should not have to give them up because others find them offensive!”
She added: “I’m so tired on my kids missing out on some of the things we all got to do as children and are some of the greatest childhood memories I have due to others saying they find it offensive. I say embrace our culture and we will try to embrace yours or keep your child home.”
In the comments, punctuated with profanity and many an exclamation point, it appeared Halloween was the only thing staving off the end of the world as we know it.
“These dips—s want to ban a tradition of the Halloween parade in public schools because it offends some people,” one comment read. “This country is called America, if you don’t like it get out.” Another: “Your kids can wear costumes and celebrate Halloween just as much as another student can wear a barka [sic].” Another: “I’m sick of the ‘pc’ idiots running this country.”
Though emotions ran high, Lilley had garnered little more than half of the 5,000 signatures she sought as of early Tuesday morning. But it didn’t matter: By Oct. 10, Milford’s school district was already in retreat. Striking a defensive tone, the city’s superintendent called the Halloween issue “distracting” and reversed the decision. But she would not go without a fight.
“We are writing to you in response to the accusations that have been made against the school system around how we celebrate Halloween in the schools,” a letter signed by Elizabeth E. Feser read. “The misinformation around the decisions the school made tied to celebrating Halloween is huge, and the spreading of untruths by parents and members of the community very disturbing.”
Feser ran down the district’s thinking. She noted that Milford’s schools had recently combined — pre-kindergarten through fifth grade were now in the same buildings. While Halloween parades had been held in schools up to the second grade, they ended thereafter. Now, Halloween policies had to be reconfigured to accommodate younger and older students.
A family event after school, she thought — as opposed to a Halloween parade in school — would allow those who disapproved of ghouls and goblins to skip a celebration without being stigmatized. Working parents would be able to attend. And community, not costumes, would take center stage.
Alas, unthinking parents had rejected this well-thought out plan, Feser wrote.
“There are those who unmercifully attacked the decision, falsely accusing the Milford Public Schools for banning Halloween,” she wrote. “We have been accused of being un-American, of denying children participation in an American tradition, and that we should be ashamed.”
So — the after-school event was ditched — and the parade was back on. Feser condemned those unwilling to consider a more inclusive alternative.
“There are those who feel a 20 minute parade is more important,” she wrote.
Lilley, the pro-Halloween petition’s originator, was jubilant — and dismissed the superintendent’s scolding.
“We were never attacking the integrity of the Milford school system,” she said, as the Connecticut Post reported. “I love the Milford school system.”
This is not the first time a Halloween grinch has visited Milford. About a decade ago, the issue came up when Bishop Jay Ramirez of the city’s Kingdom Life Christian Church spoke out against the holiday, asking why witches were allowed when religious celebrations were verboten. (Ironically, Halloween has Celtic roots, but also a definitive Christian influence.)
“We are adding our voice to the many,” Ramirez said in 2004. “We have a responsibility to share God’s point of view and provide a light that others can follow. Milford claims to be tolerant until you say something they don’t agree with.”
The next year, Ramirez praised “Character Day” — a Halloween alternative in which children dress up as literary characters, not Freddy Krueger.
“It is an excellent creative alternative,” he said. “A lot of children from Christian backgrounds feel uncomfortable during Halloween.”
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