For many years, youngsters at Burlington's Edmunds Elementary School paraded in costumes along Main Street or the field next to school to celebrate Halloween. Passing drivers often tooted their horns in appreciation and parents and pedestrians clapped.
The ritual won't be happening this year.
Friday afternoon, principal Shelley Mathias let parents know in her weekly newsletter that the parade has been deep-sixed.
"We will no longer be having a Halloween Parade. I know that this will be disappointing to some of our students, but there are enough students who are marginalized for any number of reasons that it isn’t appropriate to continue a tradition that has an effect of dividing students," Mathias wrote.
The official confirmation came after some parents, such as Jennifer Moore, heard earlier this week that the parade was off — and weren't happy about it.
"My fourth-grader came home in tears [Wednesday] because her teacher said, 'I have bad news for you. We are not going to be allowed to have a Halloween celebration,'" Moore told Seven Days on Thursday.
She fired off an email to the entire Burlington School Board and Superintendent of Schools Yaw Obeng asking why the spooky ritual had to die.
Thursday afternoon, Obeng replied with a lengthy email, shared with Seven Days, explaining why the district is cracking down on the holiday and its trappings of candy corn, pumpkins and witch capes.
The administration is strongly discouraging Halloween events during the school day in all schools, not just Edmunds.
Part of the rationale: Halloween has become a headache for schools. It's difficult to balance parental concerns about inappropriate costumes and children who can't afford any costume at all with appreciation for the holiday, Obeng wrote.
People have complained on various grounds, he informed parents.
"There are members of our community who celebrate Halloween as a religious holy day, members who feel the socioeconomic pressure of such a consumerized tradition, members who feel the food products marketed during [that] time go against their family’s dietary habits, " Obeng wrote.
Others have had "first-hand traumatic experiences of violence that make talking about death, ghosts, etc. extremely alienating," he added.
Obeng did not say there was an outright ban on Halloween in Burlington schools, but suggested that BSD leadership feels strongly that the district must adopt practices where "holiday parties and parades are not happening" during the school day.
District communication specialist Russell Elek said Friday that the policy still gives individual schools room to make their own decisions about Halloween. Some schools have already phased out Halloween. Others still have events and will likely be having conversations about them, he added.
Moore disagrees with the policy. After Obeng responded to her first email, Moore wrote back.
"The decision to prohibit Halloween celebrations at school is not inclusive, it is exclusive," Moore wrote. "It excludes the large majority of children who do celebrate this secular holiday from celebrating with their friends, sharing their creativity and just having some fun during the school day. "
She's happy with her child's education in Burlington but believes kids need time for what she sees as harmless fun, Moore said in an interview.
Even for very young children, the curriculum now focuses on academics and testing, she said. Last year's parade, which was moved from Main Street to the school's athletic field, was a great break, she added.
“I left work and went to see them do it. It's so fun to see,” she said, adding that "the homemade costumes are always the best costumes” and that she would be happy to donate to a communal costume box to ensure that every child who wishes could participate.
Further, she sees scant connection between Halloween and any religious beliefs and views the holiday as a cultural tradition for the vast majority of participants.
But around the nation, other schools have also canceled Halloween observances. Obeng's email said some Vermont schools have moved away from the holiday. He specifically cited "Essex and MMU." But on Friday, Elek followed up to say the administration had made a mistake, and those systems don't have a district wide policy against Halloween celebrations — but consider events school-by-school.
Mathias, the principal of Edmunds Elementary, did not return a call for comment Friday.