Update: Superintendent Reverses Decision to Discontinue Halloween at Seth Boyden

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 Updated 3:45 p.m. October 14, 2014: Acting Superintendent James Memoli has announced that Halloween celebrations will continue throughout the South Orange-Maplewood School District as planned for 2014 and that the District Administrative Team will re-evaluate the celebration of Halloween for 2015. 

In a letter sent home to parents yesterday, Principal Mark Quiles announced that “after years of significant debate,” he had come to the “difficult decision to discontinue the celebration of Halloween at Seth Boyden during the school day.”

Seth Boyden Demonstration School in Maplewood is an elementary school serving students in grades K-5 from both Maplewood and South Orange in the South Orange-Maplewood School District.

The decision means that the annual school parade and costumes would discontinue. In previous years, during the last hours of the school day on October 31 — or the nearest school day to that date — academic work would cease as students donned costumes and lined up to parade outside the school where parents took their pictures. After the parade, celebrations were held back in classrooms.

However, in recent years, as Quiles stated in his letter, a growing number of families were opting out of the celebration. Quiles alluded to the fact that Seth Boyden has families from a number of religious and cultural backgrounds that prohibit participation in Halloween. On average, Quiles reported 80-90 children were separated from their peers during the parade and celebration, spending the time usually in the school cafeteria.

Quiles also wrote that a growing number of families were choosing to keep their children home on that day, removing “students from the educational process.”

While acknowledging that the parade is a “much-loved tradition” Quiles said that he could not “in good conscience continue to sanction this type of segregation.”

A number of parents attended a 3-hour PTA meeting at the school last night to protest and question the decision.

Other parents took to social media.

One parent posted a supportive message on Facebook: “Our school should be about inclusion, not exclusion…. Imagine a Christmas pageant in a public school with a substantial number of Orthodox Jewish families, or Muslims. Would we say, ‘What’s the big deal? The Jewish kids can sit in the auditorium. It’s their parents’ fault not letting them have fun.’ There are ample opportunities to celebrate Halloween in this town – trick or treating in your neighborhood, the costume contest in Maplewood Village.”

Another parent posted, “[B]ut if my kid went to a school that was 4/5th Muslim, or Jewish, I would expect there to be a big celebration for Eid, or Sukkot, and I would either have my kid celebrate or not. I would not expect the school to do away with a celebration that the majority enjoys just because I don’t. Inclusion doesn’t mean ‘getting rid of’ but ‘accepting.'”

Read Quiles’ full letter below:


Dear Families,

After years of significant debate within the District and the Seth Boyden community, I have come to the difficult decision to discontinue the celebration of Halloween at Seth Boyden during the school day (i.e., no parade, no costumes). While I appreciate that the Halloween Parade is a much-loved tradition for many families, I have made this decision based on several factors:

  • Given the diversity of religions and traditions in the Seth Boyden community, we have seen an increasing number of students opting out of celebrating Halloween. On average, 80-90 children are separated from their peers during this time. Man of these children are taken to other parts of the school while Halloween celebrations occur. Even though they are otherwise engaged, I cannot, in good conscience, continue to sanction this type of segregation.
  • A growing number of families choose to keep their children at home that day in order to avoid this sense of missing out. This absenteeism removes students from the educational process and is a loss of precious instructional time.
  • We are all aware that our fall months are  already fractured in terms of teaching time, and we believe the hours lost in celebrating Halloween, along with the distractions leading up to the actual celebrations, can be much better used.

It is inconsistent with the values of our school community to allow activities that will encroach on the educational opportunities of others and threaten a culture of tolerance and respect for all. After all, “…it is the goal of the South Orange Maplewood School District to foster mutual understanding and respect for the right of all individuals regarding their beliefs, values and customs. In pursuing this goal, we recognize that we serve a diverse community with varying cultural, ethnic and religious orientation.”

I know that this will be an unpopular decision with some of you, but trust that if your family enjoys celebrating Halloween, you will have many other opportunities to do so. We are grateful for our engaged family community and hope that we can continue to foster an environment in which ALL families can participate.


Mark J. Quiles

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