School keeps Halloween ban despite outcry

PUYALLUP, Wash. (AP) – The school board in this Pierce County city stood firm despite pleas from an angry crowd: No Halloween in the schools.

“Improving student achievement is our highest priority,” board president Greg Heath told about 400 people at the board’s meeting Monday. “The school board supports the decision of our administration.”

Puyallup School District officials announced last week that Halloween festivities would be canceled in order to stop losing instructional time and to avoid offending believers in the Wiccan religion, sometimes known as witches.

“I’m shaking with anger,” parent Vicki Hembroff told the board. “Our children are very creative, and this mixes education and fun together. Let’s not take that away.”

Any parents who are offended by Halloween can keep their children away from school that day, she said. Parents, students and district employees crammed into the Ballou Junior High School cafeteria and lambasted the board over a full hour, The News Tribune of Tacoma reported Tuesday.

“To make this decision at this late date is poor management, and you should be ashamed of yourselves,” said David Powers, a parent. The crowd roared in approval.

Stacy Cook, who drives a school bus and serves in the PTA, wore a bright orange pumpkin hat when she came forward to speak. Cook said she was “both spooked and afraid” because the decision was made without advice from parents, students or teaching staff.

“You need to do a better job of probing the public,” she said. “Think of the children. I hope they are heard.”

Several people said the district had better things to worry about than Halloween, such as obtaining new computers for some schools. Others pointed out that the district dismisses class early sometimes for teacher training days.

Halloween “should stay banned because it does offend some people,” said Allie Scholtz, a junior high school student in the district. “It’s not a big deal. You’re just missing out on a couple of parties.”

District spokeswoman Karen Hansen said earlier that the costumes, excitement and all the focus on Halloween “take the focus away from learning.” Hansen said Wiccans who have met with school officials have not asked for cancellation of Halloween events but have said they are offended by images of witches with pointy noses flying on broomsticks.

Lisa Lawrence, facilitator of Gaia’s Grove in Puyallup and Wiccan high priestess of Sacred Oak Circle in Puyallup and Tacoma, believes the issue is bigger than a Wiccan question.

“Taking Halloween away from children, that’s just ridiculous,” she told The Associated Press on Tuesday. Lawrence does not have children in Puyallup schools.

“We don’t particularly care for the images of witches but there are a lot of stereotypical images that a lot of people don’t like, but that’s part of life,” said Lawrence. “People dress up as perverted priests, sexy nuns, drunken Irishmen, nerds, obese people, every group has its stereotype that is mocked or made fun of.

“As far as classroom time, this is just another attempt to take very bit of creativity and socialization out of schools,” she said. “They want to take every bit of fun away from these kids and turn them into testing machines.”

The Wiccan religion is based on respect for the Earth, nature and the cycle of the seasons. Wiccans try to reconnect with the life force of nature, both on Earth and throughout the universe.

Oct. 31 – Halloween – is observed as Samhain (pronounced SOW-een) by some pagans. It grew out of the beliefs of the ancient Celts who considered the day to be the eve of the New Year and a night when the barriers between the living and the dead were uncertain, allowing ancestors to walk in this world. The Celts marked the day with a feast to welcome their departed kin.

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