Tiny superheroes, pumpkins and princesses will storm Sloane Public School later this week, part of the Toronto elementary school’s annual Halloween celebration that almost never was.
Earlier this month, parents received an e-mail saying Sloane’s students would not be encouraged to wear costumes to school this Halloween. Parents revolted, and a day after the costume ban was announced, the school’s principal said the decision had been reversed.
The initial announcement and the Sloane administration’s swift about-face sparked questions over where the line for cultural and economic accommodation should be drawn in public schools. School officials said they weren’t seeking to spoil fun when they first said costumes wouldn’t be encouraged. Rather, they were hoping to bridge a socio-economic divide between children who would bring costumes to school on Halloween and those who wouldn’t.
A squat, brown rectangular prism of a building located in the densely populated, highly multicultural suburb of North York, Sloane Public School has more economic and cultural disparity than the provincial average, according to figures from the Toronto District School Board. There are nearly twice as many students from low-income families than in the rest of Ontario’s schools, and nearly three times as many students whose parents hail from countries that don’t predominantly speak French or English. It was with this in mind that costumes were initially discouraged by the school, according to an e-mail sent by Sloane principal Karen Thomas to parents.
One day after sending the e-mail, Ms. Thomas sent a follow-up explaining that the school was trying to be sensitive to the needs of all students, including those who couldn’t afford costumes and didn’t celebrate the Oct. 31 holiday.
“While many students come to school with costumes, there are a number of students that don’t celebrate Halloween or may not wear a costume for a variety of reasons,” Ms. Thomas wrote. “It was with that in mind that we had considered the idea of not encouraging students to wear costumes this year.”
Ms. Thomas’s second e-mail contained her ultimate decision to encourage the wearing of costumes.
Accommodating a diverse student body can be a tricky endeavour, said Sandy Youmans, an adjunct professor with the Faculty of Education at Queen’s University.
“The administration and the teachers need to be in tune with what’s happening in their school community because every school is different and has different needs,” Prof. Youmans said. She added that her own daughter attends an elementary school in Selby, Ont., that does not allow students to wear costumes to school. At her daughter’s school, students instead are encouraged to wear orange and black clothing, she said.
Although he couldn’t recall a time when another TDSB school had discouraged Halloween costumes, TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird said Sloane’s decision to do so this year was motivated by a desire to accommodate the school’s diverse student population. Marcy McMillan, another TDSB spokesperson, said in an e-mail that “there was not a specific incident that [led] to the initial decision.”
“The school was confronted with the fact that a number of students don’t celebrate Halloween or, for whatever reason, didn’t wear a Halloween costume," Mr. Bird said.
“But I think it was very clear after conversations with parents, staff, and students that this was not the route they wanted to take.”
Kozeta Mako, an Albanian immigrant whose five-year-old son attends the school, said she was against the decision to ban costumes even though celebrating Halloween isn’t a part of her culture.
“We don’t have Halloween at home, but we have to adapt,” Ms. Mako said. “It’s a tradition. I don’t understand why this year is different.”
Halloween should first and foremost be about fun, she added. “It’s about the kids. It makes them happy.”
The school’s original plan was to replace Halloween activities with “fall-related" recreation, to be more inclusive to those who are not celebrating Halloween, Mr. Bird said.
For parents such as Brikena Puleri, the news that costumes would be discouraged was devastating.
“My son cried when he found out,” said Ms. Puleri, the mother of five-year-old and 10-year-old Sloane students.
“We’re just happy they reversed the decision.”