SPRINGFIELD — Ann Waite gets “warm fuzzies” when she recalls wearing homemade costumes and celebrating Halloween by bobbing for apples and eating candy during the school day.
She is disappointed her 13-year-old daughter won’t get the chance to make her own memories, outside of going trick-or-treating on Sunday.
Springfield is among the public school districts across Missouri that do not mark Halloween in an effort to be sensitive to religious and personal beliefs. The holiday has a murky history and is an especially sensitive issue in the Bible Belt where many associate it with the occult.
Other districts sidestep the issue by holding “harvest” parties that are devoid of ghosts, goblins and jack-o’-lanterns. School officials said they’ve found it avoids religious concerns, as well as sugar jitters and fuss over who has the best costume.
A handful of districts still let children transform themselves into superheroes and princesses while finding other activities for children whose parents object to the activity.
“I think the kids are losing out,” Waite said. “There are certain fond memories that come with school that are important, too.”
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education does not take a stand on the issue, spokesman Jim Morris said.
“It is entirely local, and school districts do it in a variety of ways,” he said.
Springfield Superintendent Jack Ernst said the district wants to focus on reading, writing, science and math. Costumes aren’t allowed, nor are bulletin boards decorated with black cats, bats and full moons. Treats are discouraged, Ernst said.
“We have less than 180 school days, and we believe that every minute in the classroom is important,” Ernst said. “An exciting, dynamic lesson can be just as exciting as a party.”
In neighboring Christian County, Nixa public schools still devote the last hour of class to Halloween revelry.
“We allow the American tradition to continue here in Nixa,” Superintendent Stephen Kleinsmith said. “Halloween, when handled right, can bring a great deal of excitement.”
Nixa principals set their own agenda, but students are prohibited from wearing scary costumes that might frighten younger pupils. Parents can bring treats, so long as they are not homemade.
“In the big picture, we believe it’s important for kids to come to school and have fun in the process,” Kleinsmith said.
In central Missouri, Eldon Elementary South students were having old-fashioned parties, minus the scary costumes and masks.
“We’ve had no complaints,,” said Denise Taylor, the school secretary.
Blue Springs public schools, just outside of Kansas City, have switched to “harvest” parties.