Hillcrest school scraps Halloween parties, plans to eliminate Valentine’s Day events

If students at Lawrence’s Hillcrest Elementary School on Friday were a bit pale like Casper the Ghost, it must have been from the homework or something else. A new school policy ensured it wasn’t because of Halloween.

Hillcrest on Friday implemented a new policy that eliminates the traditional Halloween party and costume parade that had been a part of the school’s annual festivities for years. According to a school newsletter, Hillcrest plans to eliminate Valentine’s Day parties as well.

“It just seems like kind of a radical change,” said Sarah Hill-Nelson, who has a fourth-grader who attends the school.

Hill-Nelson is among 11 Hillcrest parents who signed a letter expressing concern about the decision to eliminate the holiday parties. Hill-Nelson said she’s still waiting to hear why the school decided to eliminate the festivities.

Julie Boyle, director of communications for Lawrence Public Schools, said in an email that each elementary school makes its own decisions about whether to host Halloween parties.

But it wasn’t clear on Friday what led to the decision for Hillcrest to eliminate the festivities. Tammy Becker, principal at Hillcrest, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

In a September newsletter announcing the change, the school said: “In order to celebrate our exceptionally diverse students, we are changing our holiday party format in past years.” The statement said “mainstream holidays may be celebrated in conjunction with others,” but the school would no longer hold parties or a costume parade to celebrate Halloween or Valentine’s Day. Students were instructed to not bring costumes to school.

Hillcrest is designated as an English as a second language school, and it has a high percentage of international students. Hill-Nelson, though, said the international flair of the school was a good reason to have a Halloween celebration. As one of the few widely celebrated American holidays that isn’t based on religion, Hill-Nelson said Halloween represents a good opportunity to expose international students to an American tradition.

“For me, this is an opportunity to share cultural experiences,” Hill-Nelson said. “If I move to France, I’m going to expect to celebrate Bastille Day. In fact, I would want to celebrate Bastille Day because that is part of learning about their culture.”

Hill-Nelson said she had heard that the decision to cancel the holiday festivities was related to some parents who had pulled their students from school during previous Halloween festivities. It wasn’t clear Friday whether that was accurate. Other district officials weren’t available for comment Friday. It also wasn’t clear how many other elementary schools in the district have discontinued the practice of Halloween parties. Boyle, in her email, said some schools host traditional costume parades while others host activities based on the fall harvest and other such themes.

“If there is a small group of parents opposed to Halloween, I would say they should keep their kids home for that portion of the day,” Hill-Nelson said. “I wouldn’t ask the rest of the community to stop celebrating.”

Boyle also noted that none of the changes at schools prevented parents and their children from celebrating Halloween in ways that they saw fit. Hill-Nelson, though, said the school celebration served as a good opportunity for children to celebrate with their friends, who often times are spread throughout the city.

Ultimately, Hill-Nelson and several other parents found a way to celebrate with some of their Hillcrest friends. The parents of about 10 students pulled their children from school around 2 p.m. to have a Halloween party in a nearby park.

“But it was kind of hard because we didn’t feel like we could get the word out to everyone,” Hill-Nelson said. “We don’t have all the email addresses of parents, and we didn’t feel like it was the type of thing the school would let us put up a poster about.”