NJ school district cancels Halloween over diversity, says activities could ‘violate the dignity’ of some students

A New Jersey school district has canceled Halloween festivities citing its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion and the potential that the wearing of costumes could potentially “violate the dignity” of some students.

In a letter dated October 6, South Orange & Maplewood School District Superintendent (SOMSD) Dr. Ronald G. Taylor informed parents that Halloween celebrations will have to be held after hours so as to not offend students from differing cultural and religious backgrounds.

“As you know, SOMSD is committed to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion meaningfully – not just saying the words but also promoting an inclusive school community that creates belonging for all students, families and staff,” he wrote. “Our aim is to build a consistent approach across the District as to how our schools observe and celebrate holidays and special events.”

(Video: Fox 5 New York)

“Each year, questions arise from families, students, and staff about what SOMSD schools will be doing regarding Halloween. We believe it is important, moving forward, that we implement a consistent approach that is respectful and inclusive of all families. In trying to determine the right approach for our district,” the letter reads.

“Is promoting school-sponsored Halloween activities creating indirect and unintentional financial hardships for students and families? Do school-sponsored Halloween activities violate the dignity of some of our students and families, either culturally or religiously? Does the promotion of school-sponsored Halloween activities create tensions with the equity and access values of SOMSD?” Taylor asks.

“I know this may make some uncomfortable and elicit some challenges across our community. However, in the end, I feel these recommendations align with SOMSD’s commitment to building equity, fostering inclusion, and building a sense of belonging throughout our schools,” he said in the letter.

In another letter posted to the district’s website, Assistant Superintendent of Access and Equity Dr. Kevin Gilbert further explained the decision.

“All of us realize that this breaks with what the District has usually done, and that can be a difficult thing to do sometimes,”  Gilbert said. “Often, working to instill greater equity in our district begins with recognizing that we cannot do what we have always done. But with this decision, we are taking a step closer to upholding our community’s access and equity values.”

The move drew a rebuke from the Garden State’s Democrat Governor Phil Murphy who expressed his disbelief over the overly sensitive approach to the traditional holiday on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“Seriously? We can’t let kids celebrate Halloween? Give me a break,” the governor said.

“I know some parents can’t afford to get costumes especially if they have multiple kids, and they want specific ones… It gets a little bit hard. I think it’s good, it’s inclusive,” one parent told WPVI.

“We try to give our School Leaders creative freedom to run their buildings within our expectations. After discussing this important topic with them, we anticipate that all SOMSD elementary schools will eventually have a Fall/Harvest Festival event or themed activities that can occur during school time and can be held on October 31st. We ask for grace as some schools have already begun working toward this, while others are in the planning phase for a 2024 Fall/Harvest Festival,” Taylor said.

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