Children may be saying “boo” to Schalmont Central School District’s new policy that bans wearing Halloween costumes to school.
After more than 20 years, school officials have eliminated Jefferson Elementary School’s traditional Halloween parade, citing concerns about security and loss of instructional time.
Instead, students will be able to wear their costumes at a fall festival that will be held at the school from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday.
Youngsters across the region will go all out in their Halloween apparel for trick-or-treat night next week, but during the day many schools will restrict what they can wear.
“What it comes down to is an individual school decision and sometimes an individual classroom decision,” said Stuart Williams, spokesman for Ballston Spa Central Schools.
In an age where schools must comply with ever-stricter curriculum requirements and make sure their standardized test scores are up to par, costumes are considered a distraction.
Schools that do allow costumes restrict the amount of time they can be worn, and some ban masks, hair dye and makeup. All weapons — even obviously fake ones — are prohibited, and scary costumes aren’t allowed either.
The focus is on fun, not fright.
“One year all of our teachers in one school dressed up as various colored M&M’s,” said Christy Multer, spokeswoman for Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Central Schools.
Ballston Spa’s Wood Road Elementary School will have a parade for kids in kindergarten through grade two.
“It’s based on literary and book characters that they’ve studied in the classroom,” Williams said.
The event is being held in the morning instead of the traditional late afternoon slot with the hope that students will be able to settle down and think about their studies after the festivities are over.
Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake’s three elementary schools all still have Halloween parades where the students march around in their costumes while staff and parents watch, but the schools have made changes to minimize the distraction, including banning makeup and hair dye because those items would stay on the child all day and draw attention away from learning, Multer said.
At Schalmont, the Jefferson Elementary PTO wanted to keep the fun alive for students with a Fall Festival after school hours.
“Once we found out that we weren’t going to have the parade this year, we wanted to do something for them,” said PTO President Deb McGarry.
Children will be able to wear their costumes, parade around in them at 6 p.m., play games such as bobbing for apples and participate in a pie-judging contest.
More than 500 people have indicated they will attend, Principal Joby Gifford said.
District officials have talked for the past few years about eliminating the parade. McGarry said she can understand the concern.
“Every minute does count with their education,” she said, echoing the school’s new motto. She understands the need to make sure the students are safe.
Gifford said that in the past, so many people have attended the parade and the classroom parties afterward that it became a security concern.
“It was hard to account for people that were coming into the building,” he said, adding that on top of the school’s 668 students, there would be 700 to 800 spectators.
That’s been an issue at Burnt Hills as well.
Schools set a limit on the number of parent volunteers who can come into the classroom before the parade and help students put on their costumes, and don’t allow all the parents to come to the party afterward.
“Otherwise, the school would be packed with hundreds of people,” Multer said.
McGarry also pointed out that some students have different religious traditions that don’t recognize Halloween. “Those kids were staying home from school and not participating in it,” she said.
Unlike the elementary schools, most middle and high schools don’t allow dressing up at all because it would violate the dress codes, which bar anything distracting.
Williams said, “It’s just to try to keep people focused on academics.”
School districts also have cut back on classroom parties, or at least the sugary snacks associated with Halloween, because of the focus on health and reducing childhood obesity.
“That’s another distraction if you’re feeding kids more food and sugar during the day,” Williams said. Instead, teachers might cook pumpkin seeds in the classroom or a fruit dish.
Some workplaces have rules about dressing up for Halloween too. At Ellis Hospital, dress must be professional and sensitive to the sick or injured patients that employees see.
“We need to provide a calming and soothing and healing environment,” said hospital spokeswoman Donna Evans.
Scary masks and funny costumes may not fit the bill, but a nurse may wear festive pumpkin-patterned scrubs or a tasteful pair of Halloween earrings.
This year, the pediatric outpatient staff plan to dress as letters from a Scrabble game to spell “pediatrics,” giving the children something fun to focus on and a spelling lesson to boot.
“In that instance it would be appropriate,” Evans said.