BUCKMAN ARTS Focus Elementary is a beloved Southeast Portland magnet school. But this week, parents were up in arms over what some see as a quashing of creativity—a ban on Halloween costumes.
It's a classic Portland dust-up: fostering fun vs. the fear of being offensive.
In a letter sent home to parents, Principal Brian Anderson explained that Halloween celebrations lead to exclusion."
"There are social, financial, and cultural differences among our families that we must respect. The spirit of equity has led most PPS [Portland Public Schools], including most all elementary schools, to deemphasize the celebration of Halloween at school," he wrote.
Instead, the school will assign a day for classes to celebrate a sweets- and costumes-free harvest festival.
The announcement ticked off some parents so much that they've set up a petition to overturn the ban. Parents in witch hats collected signatures outside the school last week and say they've gathered more than 250 names.
Dwight Reid signed the petition—his Buckman third-grader and fifth-grader dressed up last year as a Hogwarts student and a Ghostbuster, respectively.
"I have no problem keeping away the sugary treats, but you have to remember that this is an arts-focused school. It attracts a certain kind of parent who is really into their kids being creative," says Reid.
Another parent, Shannon Brazil, blogged her reaction: "This country's obsession with the politically correct is really getting out of hand."
PPS spokesman Matt Shelby says Halloween is not an issue that has been discussed district-wide, with the school board leaving those ghoulish decisions up to individual schools and classrooms. To his knowledge, the district has not received any complaints about Halloween celebrations.
This is the second year that the school has banned Halloween costumes. Any outfit that violates the PPS dress code—wear shoes, kids!—will earn the student a call home to get new clothes. Anderson explains that his decision to end Halloween at Buckman—with the support of the staff and Parent Teachers Association—came from experience at his previous gig as principal of Kelly Elementary on SE 90th.
"The school was 40 percent Russian. The Russian kids wouldn't come to school that day because people were dressing up and celebrating Halloween," says Anderson. "Halloween is, in many ways, personal to some people and to other people it's very offensive."