District Statement Regarding Halloween Activities

The Inglewood Elementary School letter addressing Halloween is not an accurate representation of the school district’s administrative regulation (Regulation 6119 below). Schools are permitted to have Halloween parties in their classrooms during the school day and school-wide activities such as parades are permitted before and after the school day. In fact Inglewood Elementary school will hold such a Fall Festival, with Halloween costumes and activities, on the evening of October 18th. Halloween and fall related activities being held at NPSD’s 18 schools include a Halloween dance, fall festivals, harvest festivals, trick or treating and more.

The regulation, which pertains to all holidays and cultural observations not just Halloween, was studied and reviewed by staff, parents and the Educational/Community/Policy Committee of the North Penn School District Board of School Directors before the changes were made this past spring. The administrative regulation is designed to preserve the greatest amount of instructional time possible for our students. As academic rigor increases for students and as state and federal expectations rise, we must continue to focus our time and resources on student achievement.

The regulation also provides guidelines on how cultural observances and religions are to be addressed instructionally during the school day. One of NPSD’s educational goals is to advance students’ knowledge and appreciation of the roles that religious and cultural heritage have played in the social historical development of our civilization.  NPSD complies with the US Supreme Court ruling that school districts may not endorse, prefer, favor, promote or advance any religious beliefs.

Unfortunately, the school communication inaccurately confuses the two issues. NPSD will continue to clarify the new regulation with staff, students, parents and community members.

NORTH PENN SCHOOL DISTRICT

Administrative Regulations 6119 

 

INSTRUCTION

Reference: Board Policy #6120

Elementary and Secondary Instructional Guidelines for Religious/Cultural Holidays and Celebrations

 

One of the school district's educational goals is to advance students' knowledge and appreciation of the roles that religious and cultural heritage have played in the social and historical development of civilization. It is the intent of the administration to implement board policies in a manner that acknowledges holidays and cultures, reflects our rich diversity, is consistent with the guidelines of the Constitution, and gives due consideration to the need to carefully plan instruction and the time necessary for students to attain all academic standards.

The district also recognizes that the schools are a reflection of the community they serve.

 

Traditions are a cherished part of community life, and the district has an interest in maintaining traditions which have significance to the community. Some holidays observed in the community that are considered by many people to be secular (ex. Halloween, Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day) are viewed by others as having religious overtones. The district must always be mindful of the sensitivity of all the members of the community with regard to holidays and celebrations of a religious, cultural or secular nature.

 

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that school districts may not endorse, prefer, favor, promote or advance any religious beliefs. Therefore, the school district may teach about religious and cultural practices; however, it cannot sponsor said practices.

 

Permitted:

A study of various religious/cultural/secular holidays and celebrations may be included in elementary and secondary curricula as opportunities for teaching about religions/cultures. Such study serves the academic goals of educating students about history and cultures, as well as the traditions of particular religions/cultures within a pluralistic society. Teachers must be alert to the distinction between teaching about holidays, which is permissible, and promoting holidays, which is not.

 

Specifically:

INSTRUCTION: It shall be clear that teaching must foster knowledge about religion, not indoctrination into religion; it should be academic, not devotional or testimonial; it should promote awareness of religion, not sponsor its practice; it should inform students about the diversity of religious views rather than impose one particular view; and it should promote understanding of different religious views as well as respect for the rights of persons who hold such views. The school may inform the student about various beliefs and shall not seek to conform him/her to any particular belief and must avoid pressing the student to accept any one religion, all religions or no religion.

 

Recognition of and information about holidays may focus on how and when they are celebrated, their origins, and histories. If the approach is objective and sensitive, neither promoting nor inhibiting religious beliefs, the study can foster understanding and mutual respect.

 

HOLIDAY SYMBOLS: Symbols displayed as an example of the cultural and religious heritage of the holiday are permitted as teaching aids (such as but not limited to a cross, menorah, crescent, crèche, angels, a tree decorated with religious symbols, Star of David, symbols of Native American religions, and other symbols that are part of a religious holiday). Displays should promote the understanding of religious and cultural diversity. The display should be educational, short-term in nature, and not celebratory. There should be an appropriate balance of symbols displayed.

 

Symbols of religious holidays that have acquired secular meaning such as Christmas trees, stars, bunnies, jack-o-lanterns, cupids, dreidels, and shamrocks are permissible as decorations. In the use of such decorations, school administrators and teachers will strive for balance and exercise good judgment so as not to offend the sensibilities of those of differing creeds and religious beliefs.

 

MUSIC, ART, LITERATURE & DRAMA Religious expressions in music, art, and holidays common to the people of the school district are a vital part of our cultural heritage, and should be used in the school program as part of our American heritage. It is expected that musical compositions chosen to be sung by students in music classes and for public concerts will be selected on the basis of their musical merits.

 

Music, art, literature, and drama having religious contents are permitted as part of the curriculum for school sponsored activities and programs if presented in an objective and balanced manner and as a traditional part of the particular holiday or holiday season. Art work, essays or reports depicting religious symbols created by students shall neither be restricted nor discouraged from display in classrooms, doors or hallways.

Dramatic productions should emphasize the cultural aspects of the holidays.

 

ELEMENTARY CLASSROOM PARTIES: Classroom parties may be held, subject to approval by the building principal. Although it is recommended that the number of classroom parties in a given school year be limited to two, each building principal retains the discretion to approve more than two classroom parties. Under no circumstances, however, will a classroom party be approved if the party will unduly interfere with the implementation of the curriculum and instructional program.

 

If the party is being held during a time of the year when members of our community typically celebrate religious, cultural and secular holidays, and any portion of the party is planned to acknowledge such holidays, then that portion of the party should represent the full variety and diversity of religious, cultural and secular holidays approximate to the date of the party. A wide variety of activities should be planned so that all students are engaged throughout the length of the party. Referring to a party as a “Halloween,” “Fall,” “Holiday,” “Winter,” “Valentine’s,” “Spring,” or “End-of-Year” party is permissible.

 

Not Permitted:

Teachers may not use the study of religious holidays and cultural celebrations as an opportunity to promote or to interject personal religious beliefs into the discussions. Teachers can avoid this by focusing their instruction on the attributes, characteristics, traits, or qualities of the particular religious or cultural holiday being discussed.

 

Religious holidays may not be celebrated during the school day. Celebration is defined as school sponsored prayer, worship, glorification or ritual related to a holiday.

 

Specifically:

INSTRUCTION: To maintain the distinction between acknowledgment and celebration, classroom parties may include activities which help students to gain an understanding of various customs, however students shall not be required to engage in the exercise of any customs.

 

MUSIC, ART, LITERATURE & DRAMA: Teachers may not encourage, discourage, or require such creations, though students may choose to create artwork with religious symbols. Nativity pageants or plays portraying religious miracles are not appropriate in the public school setting.

 

School-wide Activities: Significant consideration for the protection of instructional time must be given when planning school-wide assemblies, recognition activities, book fairs and other such activities. Accordingly, activities such as school-wide parades and holiday shops must be scheduled as after-school activities.

 

STUDENT EXCUSAL: Parents and guardians have the right to have their children excused from specific instruction which conflicts with their religious beliefs. This will be honored by the school district upon receipt of a written request from the parents. Some parents and students may make requests for excusals from discussions of certain secular holidays even when discussed from an academic perspective. If focused on a limited, specific discussion, such requests may be granted in order to strike a balance between the student's religious freedom and the school's interest in providing a well-rounded education. All requests for student excusal on the basis of religious objection must be in accordance with Board Policy #6142.