“Jason” and “Freddy” most likely won’t be showing their faces around your kid’s school this Halloween, and it has nothing to do with the fact that the 1980s horror flick characters might be considered outdated. The traditional “French maid” won’t be roaming the hallways either.
In recent years schools across the country, and locally as well, are attempting to tame Halloween celebrations, forbidding costumes that are too gory, scary or sexy. Guns, swords and other toy weapons have been off limits for years, but schools today are also worrying about what might be considered inappropriate, offensive or frightening to young children.
At St. Anne’s School of Annapolis, scary masks are off-limits, as well as parts of costumes that might frighten young children. The school includes preschoolers through eighth graders, so student maturity varies. What might be acceptable for older children might terrify little ones, says Lisa Nagel, the head of school for St. Anne’s. Halloween is celebrated at the school with a parade where family members are invited. Masks are allowed only during the parade.
“Our goal is to promote fun and friendly dress. We want to promote a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment and keep all of our friends throughout the school in mind,” Nagel says.
Students at Matapeake Elementary School in Stevensville usually wear appropriate costumes, but occasionally a kid shows up in a ‘Scream’ mask with fake blood dripping off it, or a couple fifth graders dress as scantily-clad cheerleaders or playboy bunnies.
“Sometimes there’s something with a little shock value Halloween style with gore, but usually it’s not an issue,” says Sean Pelan, third grade teacher at Matapeake Elementary School.
What costumes are appropriate
Before Halloween celebrations, most schools distribute newsletters indicating what is considered appropriate garb.
“For obvious reasons, we send out the information in a newsletter and we do a phone message,” says Michelle Carey, principal of Grasonville Elementary School in Grasonville. “We don’t allow anything gory. Absolutely no weapons. No blood and guts. None of that kind of stuff.”
In addition to school-wide notifications and in some cases assemblies on the topic, classroom teachers usually discuss expectations with students.
“We’re good about preparing things. In my classroom we have discussions about what would be appropriate,” says Stephen Rafter, fourth grade teacher at Matapeake Elementary School.
If children come to school donning something offensive, teachers talk to the student, then alert administrators, who usually call parents. The student must remove the offending part of the costume, though teachers and administrators will try to alter the costume so it’s appropriate or sometimes lend a costume to the student, says Carol Kamp, principal at Matapeake.
“It would start at the classroom level, and we would assess it to see what we could do to tailor the costume and take away pieces or if it’s too much skin showing, then cover up a bit,” Kamp says.
Carey agrees. “I would most definitely call the parents, and I would work with the parents. Maybe they have a different costume at home, or maybe we could make the costume look not so scary. We would try to make it work without them being devastated about it,” Carey says.
Halloween at most area schools, specifically elementary, is a time to “get creative and have fun,” says Kamp.
“I find that a lot of kids are going toward homemade costumes and being creative. That’s what we encourage … creativity and using recycled materials,” Kamp says.
One year, a student at Matapeake dressed as a jellyfish using an umbrella as tentacles, and another student came dressed as a bathtub complete with bubbles (balloons).
Dressing in silly or random costumes can often be more fun for kids than going the creepy or scary route, says Dominique Drew of Germantown. Her son Thadeus Triandos chose the same simple costume two years in a row: a trash can.
Thadeus, 11, a student at St. Anne’s School, bought a rubber trash can, cut arms for holes, stapled on straps for his shoulders and put hinges on the lid. “Neither of my children are interested in being scary,” Drew says, explaining her 6-year-old daughter, Ari Triandos, usually dresses as something princess-related.
“Some of their friends do want to be zombies or something like that,” she says. “I wouldn’t let them be anything gory. I wouldn’t let them be anything too sexy. We haven’t had to discuss that yet.”
Drew says she likes the school dress guidelines because that gives her some backbone if her kids decide to veer towards the more adult costumes. “If it does happen, I will probably just be very honest with them and say it’s inappropriate and why. I will just be very blatant. I’ll say no and explain why,” Drew says.
According to Dr. Charles Shubin, director of pediatrics for Mercy FamilyCare in Baltimore, parents always have a say in costumes their children choose. Costumes should be safe but also appropriate for age and not misrepresent the family.
“They need to be able to be seen in their costumes and also wear costumes where they won’t trip and fall and costumes that don’t set the wrong tone,” Shubin says.
While kids are young, it’s relatively easy to find innocent costumes, but costumes for teenagers are often violent or sexy. Costume stores are often filled with the latest horror movie characters, or racy versions of traditional costumes—sexy nurse, sexy Snow White, sexy Raggedy Ann. The list is endless.
“Parents owe kids limits even when kids try to rebel,” Shubin explains.
Parents play a vital role in deciding which costumes are fit to wear to school, a Halloween party or trick-or-treating, he says.
“Halloween is an exciting time for kids in terms of expressing themselves, but kids need to express themselves according to their family values,” Shubin says.