School Says Halloween Disrespectful to Witches

A Washington state school district is canceling its annual Halloween celebration, and the explanation has some parents baffled.

"Let them have their 30 minutes of dressing goofy and having candy," Silas Macon, a father of two school-age girls, said Wednesday outside Maplewood Elementary School after learning that the grade-school tradition of a party and parade in costume during the last half-hour of class before Halloween night won't happen this year in the district.

A letter sent home to parents Wednesday said there will be no observance of Halloween in any of the district's schools.

"We really want to make sure we're using all of our time in the best interest of our students," Puyallup School District spokeswoman Karen Hansen said.

The superintendent made the decision for three primary reasons, Hansen said. First, Halloween parties and parades waste valuable classroom time. Second, some families can't afford costumes and the celebrations thus can create embarrassment for children.

Both of those reasons seemed sensible to the parents who spoke to ABC News affiliate KOMO-TV in Seattle. But the district's third reason left some Puyallup parents shaking their heads.

The district said Halloween celebrations and children dressed in Halloween costumes might be offensive to real witches.

"Witches with pointy noses and things like that are not respective symbols of the Wiccan religion and so we want to be respectful of that," Hansen said.

The Wiccan, or Pagan, religion is said to be growing in the United States and there are Wiccan groups in Puyallup.

On the district's list of guidelines related to holidays and celebrations is an item that reads: "Use of derogatory stereotypes is prohibited, such as the traditional image of a witch, which is offensive to members of the Wiccan religion."

"I do lots of things that are not revolving around wearing a black outfit and stirring a cauldron," Wiccan priestess Cheryl Sulyma-Masson said in an interview with ABC News in which she explained that Wiccans, or Pagan Clergy, celebrate nature.

This is not the first time the district has expressed concern about offending followers of the Wiccan religion.

An internal e-mail from October 2000 warned that "the Wiccan religion is a bona fide religion under the law, and its followers are entitled to all the protections afforded more mainstream religions. Building administrators should not tolerate such inappropriate stereotyping (images such as Witches on flying brooms, stirring cauldrons, casting spells, or with long noses and pointed hats) and instead address them as you would hurtful stereotypes of any other minority."

This year, however, is the first time the superintendent decided to cite that concern as one of the reasons for canceling in-school Halloween activities.

"They're so worried about being politically correct anymore that we're not allowed to do much of anything," said Tonya Reynolds, whose daughter attends Maplewood Elementary.

"If you don't want costumes, call it a harvest party. We don't have to take out complete Halloween. We could still do something for our children," said parent Loni Andrews, who promised to challenge the ruling at the next school board meeting.

Some children said they will miss the usual festivities.

"Yeah, it does bother me because I would really like to go around and dress up," Maplewood sixth-grader Grace Macon said.

Macon said that while the Halloween celebration might take up a little class time, it also gives children a reason to like school.

"I think it's terrible," she said. "I think it just kind of takes away from the little stuff they get to do that's fun at school."

Hansen said questions of lost study time and disrespect for religious belief played into the decision.

"It's a little bit of both," she said. "I don't think you can balance respect with instructional time and we would always be looking to do both. We want to make sure our students are respectful of all religions and all cultures.

Hansen also said that the PTA and teachers have been notified that they can hold parties or other Halloween events after the school day is over. Classroom time, however, will not be used for Halloween celebrations. Hansen says concerns about other holidays and parties held in school will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

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