OP-ED: The Facts About Why Seth Boyden Is Not Hosting a Halloween Parade

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I have largely stayed away from the vitriol, negative comments, name-calling (“un-American”), threats, and the anger from those upset about Seth Boyden not hosting a Halloween parade during school hours on Friday, October 30. However, from what I have heard, there are some misconceptions about this decision:

#1. This decision was not made in response to complaints from families who do not celebrate Halloween

In fact, I have never received a single complaint from the families of children who “opt out” of the Halloween celebrations. They have not asked that other children not be allowed to celebrate this holiday in school. They have not raised their voices or been vocal in any way. They are, by and large, a silent minority. They quietly keep their children home or return the form asking that their child not participate in the Halloween activities. On the other hand, I have escorted children out of a classroom getting ready to celebrate Halloween (with candy and other fun items), and I have witnessed quiet, sad faces. And I have seen tears from children who don’t have a costume or whose mom/dad/guardian cannot come to school like the other parents because he or she cannot take off from work. And last year, I helped the school coordinate what to do with the 120 children who opted out of Halloween. They cannot simply be shuttled to the cafeteria or auditorium, and kept out of sight, for the last 1 and ½ hours of school while the other children change into costumes, march around the school in them, and then have a celebratory party. Which brings me to #2.

#2. The logistics of separating out 80 to 120 children from the rest of the school require planning and take a lot of resources that could better be used on education and the needs of our children

Last year, I helped coordinate activities for the children whose families opted out of the Halloween celebrations. We had children in the library, the cafeteria, the gym, the garden, and other places. The social work staff (led by David Connerty) made sure we had a list of all of these children, and where each child was to go. We (the PTA) and David Connerty recruited and made sure we had enough parent volunteers and Seth Boyden staff (including specials teachers and social work interns) to supervise and help in each of the rooms with the children. Towards the end, we all gathered in the cafeteria for a light snack, donated by parents. This level of planning is necessary and is done for many reasons, chief among them the idea that no child should be made to feel excluded in his or her own school. We celebrate Halloween in my house, but my own child opted out of last year’s activities because even at the age of 9, he understood that it was not okay to attend a party that leaves out many of his classmates.

#3. Not once in any discussion I have had about whether or not to have a Halloween parade has the issue of religion entered the discussion

To me, the reason a parent chooses to have his or her child not participate in Halloween activities in school is irrelevant to this discussion. I don’t care if it is because of their culture, their religion, their personal philosophies, their inability to afford a costume, or some reason I don’t know about. I respect whatever personal reasons they have, and it is not my place to tell them otherwise. I just know that the child who comes to school with the opt out form filled in by his or her family, most often, knows only that he or she is being excluded from something that looks fun. And this is what matters to me. I want every child to feel valued. No child should feel left out in his or her own school.

#4. Halloween was not “cancelled due to diversity”

The leadership of Seth Boyden, with the support of the PTA Co-Presidents, opted not to have a Halloween parade in school on the day before Halloween (October 30). Children will have many other opportunities to wear costumes, march around in them, go trick or treating, eat candy, and do lots of fun Halloween activities. Yes, we are a diverse community. Most of us celebrate that diversity and love Seth Boyden because of it, not in spite of it. But diversity did not lead to the decision not to have a Halloween parade in school. Unity led to this decision – everyone counts, or nobody counts.

#5. There is no universal or American right or entitlement to celebrate Halloween in school

My sisters live in a state other than NJ. Halloween is not celebrated in their public schools. I did not celebrate Halloween in public school in yet another state growing up. In fact, I suspect (without actually doing any research), that many schools in the United States do not have in school Halloween activities. I don’t think any fundamental rights are being violated here.

#6. Why can’t we put all this passion to better use?

If each and every person phoning in a complaint to Seth Boyden, or writing an angry comment online or in a letter or email, would take that energy and put it towards making our schools and community a better place for all children, we might succeed at: 1) getting more state funding for our public schools; 2) getting better pay for our teachers; 3) getting more resources in the classrooms in order to support our teachers and students; 4) building more schools so that classrooms across the district are not crowded; 5) and much, much more!

Halloween will go on in Maplewood and South Orange. There will be parties in the towns on Friday and Saturday. There will be trick or treating, chances to dress up and eat candy, and there will be time to decorate houses and play scary jokes and tell ghost stories.

And what will happen at Seth Boyden on Friday, October 30, is that 80 to 120 children will not feel left out, and the remaining children will have to wait an hour or so to put on their costumes when they get home. I can live with that trade off.


Amelia Riekenberg

Seth Boyden PTA Co-President

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