Rockburn Elementary principal cancels annual Halloween parade

Traditional Halloween festivities make the day a favorite for many children, but for students at one Howard County elementary school, any Halloween-specific celebrations will have to take place on their own time.

Rockburn Elementary School Principal Lauren Bauer announced earlier this month that the Elkridge school will not hold its traditional Halloween parade. It's a decision that angered some parents and, according to one parent, "caused so much friction" in the community.

"I think this is absolutely ridiculous," said Lisa Klapp, in an email to The Howard County Times. "I think this decision should have involved the Rockburn parents. Every public school in Elkridge will continue the tradition. Enough of the political correction. The majority of us do not oppose Halloween and the fun it brings."

Students at Rockburn will, however, be able to participate in a Fall Harvest Dance on Friday, Oct. 28, sponsored that evening by the Parent Teacher Association.

Bauer said her decision was based on several factors, chief among them logistics and safety. Student enrollment at Rockburn is 731, and last year, Bauer said, the crowd of parents for the Halloween parade numbered nearly 500. Parking was an issue, she said, with several parents getting ticketed for illegal parking, and with the crowd eight to 10 people deep, many parents couldn't even see their children in the parade. Bauer said she received numerous complaints from parents.

"I didn't feel that we had the staff to manage the outdoor crowd," Bauer said. "Between that, the amount of time it takes for students to get dressed in the appropriate costumes, it's chaotic, and when I thought about safety management, we just decided it was time for a change."

Bauer said she notified parents of the decision Oct. 3, and in the days that followed, held meetings and conferences and fielded numerous phone calls from parents. As of Tuesday, Oct. 25, Bauer said four parents had expressed disagreement with the decision, while 30 responded positively. Parents that expressed outrage on social media platforms and blogs, Bauer said, had not contacted her.

The decision of whether to hold a Halloween party is left to the principal, schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan said. The central office does issue guidelines.

"We suggest that they encourage kids to stay away from costumes that depict anything violent or gory, or related to witchcraft, because that can be offensive to some people because of their religious beliefs," she said.

Caplan said that more schools were starting to stray from traditional Halloween parties and parades, calling activities "harvest festivals" or "autumn parties." More and more, she added, schools are turning over the planning to the PTA, which can host events after the school day has ended.

"It seems appropriate that that's how many schools handle it," Caplan said. "With so many parents working, that becomes a difficult thing, attending parties or parades during the day."

Several schools have taken that approach. Dayton Oaks Elementary hosts an evening event called the Harvest Moon Festival, Thunder Hill Elementary has a Halloween Disco and Lisbon Elementary is throwing a Monster Bash.

Many county elementary schools are continuing their traditions of Halloween parades and parties, however, with the majority being scheduled for Friday, Oct. 28 or Monday, Oct. 31, during school hours. At Rockburn, Bauer said Halloween day would be filled with fall activities that can be related to the curriculum, like counting pumpkin seeds and carving pumpkins.

The disruption of class time is a contributing factor as schools decide to do away with parties and parades, Caplan said.

"Over the years, schools have really cut back on the time they're dedicating to these things, because they realize the importance of keeping kids on task," she said. "They don't want to take away the fun stuff, but they're limiting time devoted to parties and celebrations … Trying to fit all the things in the curriculum that kids are expected to know and be able to do is becoming more and more challenging at each grade level."

Caplan said the school system does not collect data on which schools hold Halloween-related events and was not aware of any school doing away with Halloween or fall festival events entirely.

Bauer said she had to make a decision that was in the best interest of the students.

"We're supposed to be setting good examples," she said. "You have to make decisions based on what is educationally sound and safe, not on what's going to make everyone happy. As the bar is raised, we have to think about how we're spending our classroom time."

In an interview, Klapp said she was disappointed in how the situation was handled. The decision, she said, was made by the principal and her staff, and with input from the PTA, but not with input from parents, like Klapp, who are not in the PTA.

"What's different this year than from the last 17 years?" Klapp said. "There's always been 700 kids, parking's always been horrible."

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