Halloween stories about the Los Altos School District

Los Altos, California is a small San Francisco Bay Area town that made national news back in October 1995 when the school district decided to ban Halloween celebrations. The following stories appeared in the San Jose Mercury News.

The most pertinent of these are the 10/17/1995 front page article and the 10/18/1995 local article. They show that the school board actually reached a really moderate decision.

Local: CONTROVERSY, LIKE HALLOWEEN, WAS SCARY, SILLY

CONTROVERSY, LIKE HALLOWEEN, WAS SCARY, SILLY

Saturday, October 21, 1995
Section: Local
Page: 1B

By: SUE HUTCHISON column

Until a few days ago, I had decided on a really scary Halloween costume. I was going to put on a suit, get together with four similarly clad friends, and go trick-or-treating as the Los Altos school board.

But since the board came to its senses and decided it was OK to celebrate Halloween during school hours, I’m not sure if my costume will be scary enough. I think it will be, though. Because board members saw the light only after more than 600 outraged residents deplored their unanimous decision to ban Halloween parties at the request of a few parents who think the holiday celebrates devil worship.

Pretty frightening, eh?

Los Altos parents, teachers and kids saved the day, but you have to wonder what’s in store the next time painfully conscientious administrators seek to set an agenda according to a few people who think the world should revolve around their beliefs.

Hey, it’s not easy being a sensitive soul these days. Once, even in enlightened circles, it took courage to implore a group to include and accommodate the minority. Now it takes as much guts for what Los Altos resident Keith Williams described as ”the acquiescent majority” to appeal for a little sanity and common sense.

WHEN A school board in one of the nation’s top ”smart spots,” according to American Demographics magazine, appears to be on the same side as a guy passing out pamphlets describing himself as a ”former Satanist turned prophet of God: ‘The witch that switched,’ ” you have to wonder what the heck is going on.

Another parent who took the podium at this week’s public meeting announced, ”There are 150,000 witches living in the United States, and some are in this room.” I was probably one of them because I could barely suppress the urge to turn a hose on this woman. (Though, in the interest of free speech, the crowd should have saved their ”boos” for Halloween).

Why had the board not simply told these few parents their children would not have to participate in Halloween, but expecting everyone else to alter a beloved, secular tradition is unreasonable?

Tolerating a minority shouldn’t mean tyrannizing the majority, and Los Altans who spoke eloquently against the Halloween ban said sometimes even compromise isn’t a fair solution. The request for a ”disclaimer” after Halloween stories, for example, would do more harm than good.

”Well, that’s the story of ‘Gavin the Lonely Goblin,’ ” a teacher might be forced to say. ”But children, you should know that some people believe Gavin would like to boil you in oil and eat your liver with a bottle of Chianti and fava beans. OK, class dismissed!”

THE BEAUTY of the Halloween controversy was the silliness of it. It was a user-friendly illustration of the dangers of knuckling under to a vocal minority and ending up with, in Keith Williams’ words, ”social sterility.”

Of course, some similar controversies have been trickier to navigate, like the fracas in East San Jose about whether ”Huck Finn” should be banned from high school reading lists because of its use of racist language.

But Los Altans carved out good guidelines for handling these situations: Bans are almost never the way to go. Inclusiveness – celebrating a variety of religious holidays and discussing different viewpoints – is usually the best solution. And sometimes you have to draw a line in the sand and say, ”Enough already!”


This material is copyrighted and may not be republished without permission of the San Jose Mercury News. For reprint rights, contact San Jose Mercury News Reprint Manager.


The San Jose Mercury News archives are stored on a SAVE ™ newspaper library system from Vu/Text Library Services, a Knight-Ridder Inc. company.

Local: HALLOWEEN STAYS IN LOS ALTOS

HALLOWEEN STAYS IN LOS ALTOS
NO BAN: HOLIDAY CELEBRATIONS AT SCHOOLS MAY CONTINUE, BUT BOARD MEMBERS URGE CONSIDERATION FOR OTHERS’ RELIGIOUS BELIEFS.

Wednesday, October 18, 1995
Section: Local
Page: 1B

By: By LORI ARATANI, Mercury News Staff Writer

It may have been the spirit of Halloween but more likely it was the screams of hundreds of parents and children that ultimately persuaded trustees in the Los Altos school district to back away from a controversial ban on school-time celebrations of the October tradition.

After more than three hours of debate under the glare of dozens of television cameras, board members decided just before midnight Monday that they had made a mistake. The parties and parades can go on.

”My feeling is that if you want Halloween to be the way it was, then I agree,” Trustee John Moss told the overflow crowd of more than 600. Hundreds of others milled around outside after the fire marshal closed the meeting room at Blach School.

The decision was greeted with shouts and cheers.

Trustees added a caveat to their unanimous vote: They urged teachers and students to be sensitive to those who believe that Halloween celebrations violate their religious beliefs.

For more than a week, the tiny school district had been the object of national scrutiny and public scorn after the board temporarily banned Halloween observances in district classrooms after several parents voiced religious objections, saying the events glorified Satan and the occult.

Of the hundreds who attended the meeting, the vast majority supported Halloween celebrations. Students carried hand-lettered signs and banners, some even dressed up as witches, cheerleaders and clowns. A man who identified himself as a former Satanist-turned conservative Christian minister was one of a handful who spoke in favor of curtailing Halloween.

The Los Altos debate highlights the problems school districts face in trying to reach consensus at time when individuals are increasingly sensitive to perceived attacks on their personal beliefs or identities. In San Jose’s East Side Union High School District, for example, a group of black parents is asking that ”The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” be removed from required reading lists because it contains racial stereotypes and racial epithets.

By the end of the meeting, Los Altos trustees had decided to drop not only the Halloween ban, but also a nine-month effort to change the way religious beliefs and customs are handled in district classrooms.

‘Lighten up’

Many of the 100 people who spoke at the meeting Monday said they believed trustees had gone too far, and accused them of caving in to the wishes of a vocal minority. Board members even received guidance from the Chocolate Manufacturers Association of America – urging them not to enact the ban for obvious business reasons.

”Lighten up, board members, before you’re known as the Halloween version of Scrooge,” said Kristine Kizer, an eighth-grader at Blach School.

Katrina Wilhelm, president of the Los Altos Teachers Association, called Halloween a ”rich opportunity for creative expression.”

”(Teachers) are concerned . . . the guidelines appear to be a form of censorship,” she said.

Indeed, many in the audience feared a ban on Halloween activities would set a dangerous precedent in the district.

”The result of these guidelines will be censorship,” said parent Jackie Degner. ”In every areas of the curriculum there could be religious objections. Where do you draw the line?”

A very small number argued that the board was only doing what is right. One man even urged trustees to go further, banning even after-school Halloween activities.

”I feel the decision is a very good one,” said parent Terry Roberts. Her comment was greeted with loud boos from others in the audience.

Beliefs and customs

The Halloween debate was an outgrowth of an ongoing discussion by trustees over how religious beliefs and customs should be taught in district classrooms. Board members had also discussed eliminating Christmas carols and Hanukkah songs from holiday programs – even paper dragons from Chinese New Year celebrations – because they might be offensive to some families.

But after Monday night’s debate, Trustee Terri Sachs said it would be impossible to reach consensus. The best course of action, the board concluded, was to leave things the way they were. Along with Halloween, paper dragons, Christmas carols and Hanukkah songs can stay.

While trustees consider the issue settled, one speaker raised the possibility of a legal challenge. But Superintendent Margaret Gratiot said the district believes it has acted within legal bounds.

Actions in other states

Los Altos is not the first school district to suggest banning Halloween parties and parades during school time. In Texas, Virginia and Florida, districts have either banned celebrations or restricted them to after school.

Instead, some local Christian schools sponsor International Days and encourage students to dress in international clothing.

The board thought it had reached a reasonable compromise by allowing Halloween activities after school, but as word of the decision got out, many district parents were outraged. One labeled the move ”political correctness gone amok.”

For days after, phones in the district office rang off the hook and television cameras descended on district headquarters.

”One thing I think we’ve learned is that we must listen to the larger community,” said Gratiot. ”You don’t see things in proper balance when you have only a few people at the board meeting.”


This material is copyrighted and may not be republished without permission of the San Jose Mercury News. For reprint rights, contact San Jose Mercury News Reprint Manager.


The San Jose Mercury News archives are stored on a SAVE ™ newspaper library system from Vu/Text Library Services, a Knight-Ridder Inc. company.

Front Page: LOS ALTOS SCHOOLS BACK OFF FROM BAN

LOS ALTOS SCHOOLS BACK OFF FROM BAN
HALLOWEEN TO STAY, TRUSTEES FINALLY DECIDE

Tuesday, October 17, 1995
Section: Front
Page: 1A

By: By LORI ARATANI, Mercury News Staff Writer

The spirit of Halloween scared the Los Altos school board Monday night.

After more than three hours of debate, the board of trustees backed away from a controversial decision to ban school-time parties and parades associated with the October holiday.

”My feeling is that if you want Halloween to be the way it was, then I agree,” trustee John Moss said.

Added trustee Terri Sachs: ”I have no intention of banning Halloween.”

But even with the unanimous vote, board members urged teachers and students to be sensitive to those who argued for banning Halloween as a satanic holiday.

More than 600 people, including a group of elementary school protesters, costumed high school students and a former satanist turned conservative Christian minister, jammed the gym of Blach School to defend or decry the goblins, ghosts and witches associated with Halloween.

Earlier this month, a group of parents had asked board members to ban school-time celebrations of the holiday, arguing that the traditional costume parades and parties glorify Satan and the occult. The board agreed to a temporary ban until more thought could be put into the issue.

Monday night, the board was scheduled to make a final decision. The controversy had rocked the community, and board members, expecting a large crowd, moved Monday’s meeting to a larger site.

The board’s action will affect only two of the eight district campuses, Bullis-Purissima and Oak. Other district campuses already hold their parties and parades after school because many thought they otherwise interfered with the daily routine.

‘Save Halloween’

Even before the meeting was called to order, ”Save Halloween!” was heard throughout the building. It was quite a change for a board accustomed to an audience of three or four people. Even so, board members kept their sense of humor.

”I think what we have here is a massive failure to communicate,” said board President Philip Faillace.

At least 40 parents and students stood to speak. It was a thoughtful, well-reasoned discussion. Many said they believed the board had gone too far with its ban on Halloween activities. They accused the board of caving in to the wishes of a few vocal parents.

”Lighten up, board members, before you’re known as the Halloween version of Scrooge,” said Kristine Kizer, an eighth-grader at Blach School.

Board members even received guidance from the Chocolate Manufacturers Association of America – urging them not to enact the ban for obvious business reasons.

Not enough for some

But a small number argued that the board was only doing what was right. Some even urged the board to go further, banning after-school Halloween activities.

Los Altos is not the first school district to try to ban Halloween parties and parades during school time. In Texas, Virginia and Florida, districts have either banned celebrations or restricted them to after-school time. Instead of Halloween parties and parades, some local Christian schools sponsor an International Day and encourage students to dress in international clothing.

The Los Altos debate highlights the problems school districts face in trying to reach consensus at time when individuals are increasingly sensitive to perceived attacks on their personal beliefs.

The board thought it had reached a reasonable compromise this month when it temporarily suspended school-time Halloween celebrations in response to parents who complained the parties and parades went against their religious beliefs. But when word of the board’s decision got out, other district parents were outraged. They labeled the move ”political correctness gone amok.”

Center of controversy

For days after, phones in the district office were busy. Television cameras descended on district headquarters.

The board has been discussing how religious beliefs and customs should be taught in district classrooms for several months. The district already has banned Christmas carols, Hanukkah songs and the Easter Bunny from classroom celebrations and holiday programs. The board is considering whether to bar the paper dragons associated with Chinese New Year celebrations as well.


This material is copyrighted and may not be republished without permission of the San Jose Mercury News. For reprint rights, contact San Jose Mercury News Reprint Manager.


The San Jose Mercury News archives are stored on a SAVE ™ newspaper library system from Vu/Text Library Services, a Knight-Ridder Inc. company.

Editorial: BOO! SCHOOL IS SCARIER THAN HALLOWEEN

BOO! SCHOOL IS SCARIER THAN HALLOWEEN

Tuesday, October 17, 1995
Section: Editorial
Page: 6B

As ”fright night” approaches, it looks like it’s the Christian fundamentalist fringe who’ve got the Los Altos School Board in a sweat. I always found them to be a spooky group, myself, but if Hallow’s Eve and the thought of 6-year-olds in Ninja Turtle suits and fairy princess outfits have them worked up, I’ve got even worse news for them.

Practically every day of the week, the public school system forces children to write the names of the most powerful deities of old religions as they sign and date their homework. There is Monday, or the Moon’s day, and we know how the moon is revered by pagans everywhere. There’s the Germanic Tiu’s day and Woden’s day. The school week ends with the Norse Thor’s day and Frig’s day.

Come to think of it, school can be an eerie place. If you let your child into biology class, he might learn about Charles Darwin. If he goes into a science class, there’s homage to the Roman gods in the names of the planets Venus, Mars, Saturn and so on. Better keep them out of history, where they’ll learn how bloody holy wars can be. And literature, now that’s really scary because a child might learn that people with different beliefs have human feelings too.

It would be easy to say, ”just take your kid away.” Hide him. Home-school her. It’s a shame to see young children caught up so early in a dark web of ignorance and prejudice.

– Ross P. Nelson
Sunnyvale


This material is copyrighted and may not be republished without permission of the San Jose Mercury News. For reprint rights, contact San Jose Mercury News Reprint Manager.


The San Jose Mercury News archives are stored on a SAVE ™ newspaper library system from Vu/Text Library Services, a Knight-Ridder Inc. company.

Local: HALLOWEEN BAN TO BE DISCUSSED

HALLOWEEN BAN TO BE DISCUSSED
SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS IN LOS ALTOS MOVE MEETING TO LARGER ROOM

Monday, October 16, 1995
Section: Local
Page: 1B

By: By LORI ARATANI, Mercury News Staff Writer

The phones in the Los Altos School District’s tiny office have been ringing off the hook – ever since word got out about a plan to ban school-time Halloween celebrations.

”We were on the phone all day (Thursday),” the day that news reports broke about the proposed ban, said Lenore Cambouris, administrative assistant to the superintendent. ”People are curious and some are . . . very opinionated.”

The response has been so overwhelming that trustees have moved tonight’s meeting, where the ban will be discussed, from the classroom they usually use to the more spacious multipurpose room of Blach School. District officials say they expect a crowd.

Parent Patrick Ferrell, whose two children already have their Power Ranger and Arabian princess costumes, said he’ll be there.

”The (ban) just seems ludicrous,” he said, adding that he and other parents plan to throw a Halloween party no matter what the outcome of the trustees’ vote.

Pastor Craig Tomlin of the Community Church of Santa Clara Valley in Los Altos, who has researched the history of Halloween, said he was surprised the ban caused such an uproar. Tomlin said he believes the tradition goes against Christian beliefs.

”It’s a holiday that for whatever reason brings out the worst in human beings,” he said.

Cambouris said the district has received calls from as a far away as New York. A story about the ban was broadcast on National Public Radio and appeared headed for the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather.

Earlier this month, trustees temporarily banned school-time Halloween activities because some parents felt they glorified Satan and the occult. Parties could still be held, they said, but only after school. Tonight’s meeting is to decide whether to make the ban permanent.


This material is copyrighted and may not be republished without permission of the San Jose Mercury News. For reprint rights, contact San Jose Mercury News Reprint Manager.


The San Jose Mercury News archives are stored on a SAVE ™ newspaper library system from Vu/Text Library Services, a Knight-Ridder Inc. company.

Editorial: ARE HUCK AND HALLOWEEN REALLY THAT SCARY?

ARE HUCK AND HALLOWEEN REALLY THAT SCARY?

Monday, October 16, 1995
Section: Editorial
Page: 7B

By: Joanne Jacobs column

HALLOWEEN and ”Huckleberry Finn” have a lot in common. They’re fun. They’re subversive of authority. They’re controversial.

Local public schools are coping with two controversies this October that pose a common question: What should happen when the beliefs of a minority conflict with the desires of the majority?

In Los Altos, the school board has banned Halloween celebrations during school hours, responding to a small number of Christian fundamentalists who complained that school celebrations of Halloween infringe on their religious beliefs.

Where others see humorous devils and witches, these parents see satanism and the occult. Where others see harmless fun, they see evil. They want to protect their children from what they see as dangerous and malign influences. Pretty hard when the month of October is devoted to spooky stories and songs, culminating with the school costume parade.

Of course, the vast majority of parents believe Halloween has nothing to do with religion, whether their kids read about the travails of the smallest witch or of the smallest pumpkin. They’d just as soon send a child to school as a ghoul, goblin or ghost (assuming there’s a plain white sheet left in the house) as a Power Ranger.

Holding the costume parade after school instead of at lunch time isn’t a huge burden. But why should a bunch of candy-munching kids dressed as cyborgs and ballerinas be treated like devil-worshippers?

Furthermore, holding the party after school isn’t nearly enough to protect the sensibilities of those who take devils and witches seriously. All through October, teachers plan stories, songs and art projects – sometimes math projects – to capitalize on children’s enthusiasm for Halloween. Half the lessons plans would have to be thrown out, if the top priority is to avoid offense.

Libraries would have to be purged, too. Alvin Schwartz’s ”Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark,” and two ”Scary” sequels make the top 10 list of books most frequently challenged in schools, according to People for the American Way. Critics charge that these books endanger children by trivializing the occult. They want them out of the schools.

But if the feelings of those who abhor witches must be considered, what about the feelings of witches? Some public school families are believers in Wicca and other witchcraft religions. Are schools to offer only positive images of witches for Halloween? No warts allowed, lest they offend?

In a very diverse society, it is impossible to protect the sensibilities of every student. Most of the time, majority rules is the only rule that makes sense.

That also applies to ”The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” which the African American Parent Coalition wants removed from the required reading list at East Side high schools.

Race, not Satan, is the issue. The parents believe black children’s self-esteem is damaged by reading a book in which the ”n-word” is used in reference to a slave, who’s seen through the eyes of the white boy who helps him escape.

Like Schwartz’s scary stories, ”Huckleberry Finn” also is on the top 10 list of books people want to take out of the schools. Last year, it was an issue in Santa Cruz. The board decided it was OK if taught in historical context – which is the way all books should be taught.

Students don’t find it all that hard to understand what Mark Twain was getting at when he put Jim and Huck on that raft. No East Side students, of any race, came forward to complain that their self-esteem was damaged, and several defended the book, which is, of course, an indictment of slavery.

Should schools turn Halloween into Harvest Day to satisfy a small minority? Should teachers reject classic literature to avoid offending a handful of parents?

The answer has to be: No. Even if some kids are exposed to things their parents don’t like. Even if some kids are distressed by what they read.

Public schools have tried too hard to be all things to all people, to banish anything from the classroom that might offend or upset. It doesn’t work. Schools reflect and promote an essentially secular common culture – one that has concluded that Halloween is just for fun and that ”Huckleberry Finn” is a classic of American literature that everybody ought to read.


This material is copyrighted and may not be republished without permission of the San Jose Mercury News. For reprint rights, contact San Jose Mercury News Reprint Manager.


The San Jose Mercury News archives are stored on a SAVE ™ newspaper library system from Vu/Text Library Services, a Knight-Ridder Inc. company.

Local: LOS ALTOS BREWS HALLOWEEN DEBATE

LOS ALTOS BREWS HALLOWEEN DEBATE
SOME PARENTS WANT END TO PARTIES THEY SAY GLORIFY SATAN AND THE OCCULT

Thursday, October 12, 1995
Section: Local
Page: 1B

By: By LORI ARATANI, Mercury News Staff Writer

Harmless fun? Or funless harm? A spirited debate has broken out in the Los Altos Elementary School District over the holiday known as Halloween.

The board has temporarily banned school-time Halloween celebrations at the request of a group of parents who believe the holiday glorifies Satan and the occult.

”I don’t want to be a party pooper, but I want to warn people about the dangers of opening the door to occultism and satanism,” said parent Jan Franklin, whose two children recently graduated from Mountain View High School.

Franklin and other parents complain that in-school celebrations imply that schools endorse a holiday that violates some children’s religious beliefs and places kids in uncomfortable situations when they don’t participate.

But another group of equally vocal parents is fighting back to save a holiday they say is about pumpkins and candy, not devil worship.

”This is the ultimate in (political correctness),” said Pat Ferrell, a Los Altos parent. ”I could have seen this if it’s about Christmas; but to come at Halloween, that kind of steps over the bounds of sanity.”

For now the board has decided to put a hold on classroom parties and parades. Celebrations may still go on, but must be restricted to after-school hours. Only two of the district’s eight schools – Oak and Bullis-Purissima – were affected by the change. Other campuses already hold their celebrations after school.

Teachers may still teach about Halloween, but should give students alternatives to drawing witches or ghosts.

Board members say they will make a final decision on Halloween observances at their meeting Monday night.

Many local districts, including Mountain View Elementary and Redwood City Elementary, have Halloween celebrations and say they have had few complaints. Woodside Elementary School’s lunchtime costume parade is a campus tradition. According to the California School Boards Association in Sacramento, it is up to individual school boards to make a decision regarding Halloween.

But if trustees vote to end Halloween celebrations during the school day, it would not be unprecedented. Districts in Virginia, Texas and Florida have banned Halloween celebrations.

Board President Phillip Faillace said that allowing celebrations during class time could send the message that the school district is endorsing Halloween. If the activities are held after school, the students can still participate, but those who don’t celebrate the day won’t feel uncomfortable.

”People will say ‘These people are crackpots. You can’t take them seriously.’ But if we don’t take their beliefs seriously, where do we draw the line?” he said. ”We can’t decide which religious viewpoint gets protected and which (ones) don’t.”

The debate over Halloween is part of a continuing discussion the board has held this year over how the district should teach about religious beliefs and customs.

But others see it differently. They say the board members are caving in to a small but vocal group of parents.

Parent Mark Euchner, who confesses he enjoys Halloween as much as his four children, said he was so upset when he heard the news he could barely talk.

”They’re taking it way too seriously,” he said. ”Most of the kids today don’t think of it as a religious-type thing. They dress up like cartoon characters.”

Historians believe the modern-day Halloween has its roots in Celtic and Roman celebrations which honored the new year and the dead. In the 800s the Christian church established All Saints Day on Nov. 1 so that people could continue a festival they had celebrated before becoming Christians. The Mass that was said on that day was called Allhallowmas and the evening before became known as All Hallow e’en or Halloween.

Still, according to district Superintendent Margaret Gratiot: ”There are parents who feel very strongly that some of the Halloween activities violate their own families’ beliefs.”

Said Pam Bryant: ”Halloween is not a happy holiday. The horrible costumes and horrible stories of eating eyeballs – it doesn’t strike me as being happy.”

Bryant’s daughter was a student in the Los Altos district, but now attends a private Christian school, which will have an international celebration instead of a Halloween festival.

Ferrell said he and other parents will organize a party no matter what the outcome of Monday’s vote.

”I have always viewed Halloween the way Norman Rockwell would have painted the image of this American tradition,” Ferrell said. ”For our family it’s always been a wonderful, fun-filled celebration that brings out creative and artistic expression in our children.”


This material is copyrighted and may not be republished without permission of the San Jose Mercury News. For reprint rights, contact San Jose Mercury News Reprint Manager.


The San Jose Mercury News archives are stored on a SAVE ™ newspaper library system from Vu/Text Library Services, a Knight-Ridder Inc. company.