Kitchener-Waterloo

Don't cancel Halloween in Waterloo region's classrooms, parents tell public school board

A Cambridge mother says her children have been told not to wear costumes to school for Halloween next week. Linzi Schmidt started a petition that has more than 4,000 signatures asking the Waterloo Region District School Board to allow students to mark the holiday.

WRDSB says students who wear costumes 'would not be reprimanded'

The Waterloo Region District School Board has discouraged Halloween celebrations in schools, but says if students wear costumes, they won't be reprimanded. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Linzi Schmidt says she thinks it's unfair her children have been told to skip wearing Halloween costumes to school this year.

The mother of two from Cambridge says she received a note home from her children's teachers saying instead, students would be able to take part in a pajama day next week. She saw other parents commenting on similar notes sent home on parenting groups on Facebook.

"As a parent who has two kids who went through so much and they tried so hard during COVID to stay in school and during lockdowns and not understanding and being genuinely afraid, that these little moments, they mean so much. They do," Schmidt said in an interview.

Schmidt started a petition on Change.org asking officials with the Waterloo Region District School Board to change their minds about Halloween.

"I'd never started a petition at all before I decided to start it, and it's been up for a week [on Thursday], and yeah, it's over 4,000 signatures," she said, adding the holiday could be used as a learning opportunity for those students unfamiliar with the tradition.

She said she agrees there are some costumes that should not be worn, including ones linked to other cultures, but doesn't see the harm in a child who wants to dress up as a Paw Patrol character or a werewolf. 

"We can work together as a community instead of being divided and shutting each other out. Please, let's do that."

Students won't be reprimanded for costumes: Board

The school board said in an email that it hasn't cancelled Halloween, but it did send a directive to schools to "avoid school-based Halloween celebrations including, but not limited to, decorations, costume day, distribution of treats and other expressions of this tradition."

But, the board noted, "If students choose to wear a Halloween costume to school that isn't discriminatory or violates the health and safety rules they would not be reprimanded."

The board said any costume would also need to follow all COVID-19 precautions and a costume mask is not a substitute for a face covering to prevent the spread of the virus.

The board's director of education jeewan chanicka said in an interview Friday the language in the internal memo to schools was unclear.

"I want to start right up from there and apologize for the lack of clarity on the language to actually operational guidance that's been in place for the last three years where we've been advising schools to not engage, like whole school celebrations and encouraging costume wearing things like parades and candy, simply because there are some of our students who are adversely impacted," chanicka said.

He added there are other alternative ways schools can mark the day that would be more inclusive, like asking children to wear black and orange for Halloween.

'We're not taking something away'

He said some students come from homes where the parents have to decide between buying a costume for their child or food. There are children with differing learning abilities who don't understand why some children are dressed in costumes for a day and there are students whose religious beliefs don't include celebrating Halloween.

"And so wanting to make sure that our school spaces are as open and inclusive as possible. And then for sure, families can absolutely celebrate Halloween in ways that they feel that will really reflect what they hold dear and value. We're not taking something away, but we are trying to make sure that this date is more accessible and more welcoming to all of our students," he said.

"There are some people who are using this as an opportunity really to cause division. I'm not talking about the mom with the petition. I'm just saying in general, there's been a lot of veiled and overt racism that has come out about this through this. And I think that, for me, shows that the work that we as a community have to do when we know that some of our most harmed children are being further harmed and how we might work together to be able to make sure that our environments are more safe and inclusive for all of our children."

Listen | WRDSB director of education jeewan chanicka on the school board's guidance on Halloween.

Some parents in Waterloo region are upset because they say the Waterloo Region District School Board is trying to cancel Halloween. More than 4,000 people have signed a petition urging the board to allow kids to celebrate the day. The board's director of education jeewan chanicka explains the board's position and guidance sent to schools. 8:55

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