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.”

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