Havre Daily News
A Muffins and Masks Fall Celebration took the place of the annual Halloween parade at Highland Park Early Primary School today. The change is meant to keep children focused on school and to try something new, principal Jeff Blessum said.
Lincoln-McKinley Primary and Sunnyside Intermediate schools are celebrating with a parade and party, as usual.
Students in each kindergarten and first-grade classroom at Highland Park made masks last week on a theme. One classroom's theme was animals, another Mardi Gras. At 8:30 a.m. today, parents were invited to the school to eat muffins with their children and watch them parade through the halls with their creations.
“I think it's a wonderful change. I think it cuts down on the chaos of the day and saves more of the excitement for nighttime activities with families at home,” parent Leah Hobbs said.
While many parents agree, several parents and some staff members said they are concerned the switch away from a Halloween party at Highland Park might cause tensions when one sibling dresses up for a school Halloween party and another does not.
“We need to do things that are educationally relevant for the kids,” HPS Superintendent Kirk Miller said last week. He described the Highland Park event as a way to try something new that has the added bonus of including parents.
Halloween is a contentious issue at schools across the country. Schools in Puyallup, Wash., made national news last year when they banned Halloween in part because of objections from Wiccans who said their religion was misrepresented by the image of witches and cauldrons. Halloween also has been banned in schools in the South and Midwest due to objections voiced by Christians.
Lonnie Yingst, Great Falls assistant superintendent of elementary education, said religious objections to Halloween have probably contributed to the decline in Halloween celebrations at elementary schools in Great Falls.
“The issue with certain groups of people about Halloween has caused a decrease,” Yingst said last week. He said the district has no policy on Halloween celebrations.
The change at Highland Park was not prompted by religious objections, Blessum said. In the case of his school, the change reflects another trend, the guarding of class time so students can be prepared academically and can succeed on standardized tests.
“This is a public school setting. We do what's best for kids,” said Blessum, who is in his second year with Havre Public Schools. “This is what's best for kids and their learning - nothing to dowith religion.”
Halloween had turned into an all-day event, Blessum said. “Not that we paraded all day, but just because they had their costumes and their bags, it was such a distraction.”
Muffins and Masks also accommodates poor students who may not have costumes, Blessum said. With Muffins and Masks, everybody has the same thing.
Some parents are pleased with the change.
“I don't have a problem with that. I'm down with Muffins and Masks,” Highland Park parent Matt Herman said.
Parent Teach Organization secretary and Highland Park parent Pam Hillery said parents' reactions will define the holiday for the students.
“I think the kids will be fine. It really is the parents' attitude that drives this,” Hillery said. “If we go in and say this is a loss, it will be a loss. But if we go in and say this will be fun, the kids will be fine with it.”
Parents cited practical reasons for liking the change.
“I think it's better for everybody, in a way, because then you don't have that mad rush in the morning to get their costumes on,” parent Beatrice Ogden said. “That way their costumes last so they aren't destroyed” before trick-or-treating.
Two paraprofessionals at Highland Park said they are disappointed by the decision.
“I don't know why all the sudden we're not having that when we have Christmas parties. It's taking time too,” Carol Prindiville said.
Paraprofessional Diane Donovan said the fun is being taken out of celebrations at school. For instance, at birthday parties, staffers are told to encourage healthy snacks, she said. “In the long run, it all looks right on paper, but they are kids. They're really just taking stuff away and where does it all end?”