East Lansing schools brush off backlash over canceling Halloween

Superintendent: ‘Some school decisions should be made by professionals’


(This story was updated at 4:16 p.m. to correctly contextualize a statement from Dori Leyko.)

Despite a firestorm of recent criticism on social media over the highly controversial decision to cancel Halloween and Valentine’s Day celebrations at four elementary schools in East Lansing, district officials said they plan to stick to their guns and call off the annual festivities indefinitely.  

After all, these types of decisions are best left to educational professionals rather than the whims of a community that was quick to lash out on social media this month with “intense and emotional” feedback, East Lansing Public Schools Superintendent Dori Leyko explained to City Pulse on Monday.

“The community was not part of this decision,” Leyko said in an emailed statement following the district’s decision Wednesday to indefinitely cancel both holidays for elementary students.

“As you have likely seen on social media, many of the responses we have received from the community have been intense and emotional. I believe that some school decisions should be made by the professionals in our buildings who observe the experiences of these students, whether or not their parents are providing feedback to us,” Leyko said in response to questions.

A letter to parents from the “principal team” at Donley, Marble, Whitehills and Robert L. Green elementary schools cited concerns over equity and inclusion, as well as “unintended consequences” of festivities.

“Along with the fun of Halloween parties and parades, we also have students whose families do not celebrate or feel comfortable with their children participating in festivities. We have young children who become overwhelmed and sometimes frightened of the costumes and others who come to school with no costume at all,” it reads. “We also have families who either keep their children home or pick them up early from school on Halloween day. Lastly, it is often difficult for children to concentrate and learn on Halloween, making it challenging for teachers to teach.”

Some families and students also don’t feel comfortable with “the idea of boys and girls exchanging valentines or participating in a celebration that focuses on love,” the letter reads, noting that the holiday tradition can also sometimes lead to “classroom drama and teasing.”

“For these reasons and more,” the ELPS administration has decided not to celebrate Halloween or Valentine’s Day in our elementary schools. While this may be a disappointment and/or an adjustment for some of our students/families at first, we promise to continue to offer alternative days throughout the school year that are full of fun and learning, for everyone,” the letter reads.

City Pulse broke that story Wednesday. Hundreds of comments followed on Facebook. Some readers were concerned that the district was kowtowing to only a few concerned parents. Others said the move, a result of political correctness run amok, would only “ruin childhoods.”

District officials, however, aren’t budging. Leyko said the concept of banning the celebrations in elementary buildings originated from principals and has been discussed “for at least a few years.” It was also vetted by ELPS’ “Social Justice Teams,” which also focus on racial equity.

“We are examining our current practices and are committed to providing experiences for our students that are inclusive,” she said. “These parties are two examples of events that highlighted the disparities of our students — from those who don’t have costumes and are unable to contribute snacks to those who don’t have a parent or caregiver at the party.”

Leyko also noted that the school board was not involved in the decision. It only sets goals for the administration, not implement specific operational procedures, she said. But that doesn’t mean that the move to call off the two holidays hasn’t garnered board support.

Trustee Kath Edsall said that “huge disparities” in income and wealth across the school district can also lead to “huge disparities” in a family’s ability to participate in the holidays. Some families, for instance, cannot afford costumes or Valentine’s Day cards to distribute.

“The unintended consequence is children blatantly are reminded who are the haves and have nots. Leaving those children whose parents can’t afford a costume or cannot take time off from work feeling less than or even ashamed. While we cannot protect the children once they leave school, we can do our best to prevent harm while in our care,” Edsall emailed City Pulse. “As our district continues to do the hard work around creating an equitable learning environment for all students, there will be push back. Change is hard.”

The other board members did not respond to messages.

Mayor Jessy Gregg said the city is also exploring ways to become more inclusive to residents who practice religions other than Christianity and would prefer less of a regular emphasis on holidays — like Christmas — with origins heavily centered on evangelical beliefs.

She said that seasonal programs could possibly be “more welcoming” without the usual annual festivities like pictures with Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, which are tied to religious tradition.

Gregg said those discussions will continue, but for now, no city events have been canceled.

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  • maskimummu

    What a disgustingly anti-democratic, illiberal, and joyless attitude that E.L. superintendent has - a true spirit of the Prussian Factory Model of education. I grew up poor and had no grievances over Halloween or Valentine's Day. As far as the mayor goes, how ignorant does one have to be to think that an over 1800 year old holiday created as an alternative to the Roman Empire's Saturnalia festival, incorporating legends concerning a charitable man born in Asia Minor, as well as Germanic pagan Yule traditions is "heavily centered on evangelical beliefs" that only emerged in th U.S. in the twentieth century?

    Look, I don't even have a religion, but I celebrate Christmas, Hannukah, Yule, and even (less dedicatedly these days, if you know what I mean) Saturnalia, because they all share a common cultural human theme - in the dark, dead days of winter, we have our friends, our family, our provisions. There isn't warmth enough for many things to last through the winter, but our own light doesn't go out. So we make merry. I'm still poor - definitely poorer than the median income of E.L. - but so what? Hell, I like Festivus, too. All these holidays cheer me up, and are more colorfully valuable to the human experience than the monochrome dialectical social justice cogs of leaden humours.

    Thursday, October 21 Report this

  • maskimummu

    Also, Happy Diwali!

    Friday, November 5 Report this

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