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.

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