MELROSE — School officials were dealing this week with the fallout caused by a much-criticized plan to celebrate the seasons in class rather than emphasize traditional individual observances like Halloween.
As rumors swirled that the schools would not allow kids to celebrate Halloween, a letter from Supt. of Schools Dr. Julie Kukenberger seemed to confirm them. But not entirely.
In a letter that drew the ire of some parents, Supt. of Schools Dr. Julie Kukenberger last week wrote that the district “has worked to deemphasize Halloween and shift our focus toward community building through fall celebrations. This is in line with our mission, vision, values, and district priorities. As we work to address unfinished learning, two of our key priorities are 1) equity and the inclusion of all students and 2) fostering a sense of belonging and partnership with all students, families, and staff. This past year has shown us how powerful it is when we come together to support one another as one community.
“Our shift in focus during the school day does not change any of the city-wide festivities being planned in Melrose.
“This fall, some schools have independently planned various PTO-sponsored fall festivals and events that either have already or will occur outside of school hours. During the school day, with the support of teachers, classroom volunteers, or PTO room representatives from each classroom have been planning fall activities or crafts for the students to do together as a classroom community.
“In Melrose, we pride ourselves on being ‘One community, open to all.’ For this to be true, we must live this mantra in all that we do. This includes in-school celebrations. I understand too that consistency from school to school is also essential. To better achieve this, I am working in collaboration with our elementary principals to map out, month by month, the traditions and events that have occurred in our schools. Together we will create guidelines that are safe, inclusive, and equitable to be implemented with consistency. This does not mean that there will not be variance from school to school; however, the core ‘why’ will be the same. Once this review is complete, I will share this information with our school community.
“Thank you for your emails expressing your thoughts, ideas, and concerns regarding Halloween. Please know that we hear you and are committed to clear and consistent communication,” Kukenberger concluded.
On Tuesday night, some School Committee members disagreed that clear and consistent communication were done.
“For some people it was the subject itself, but for a lot of people it was the communication and the lack of involvement of those schools where it was impacted,” School Committee member John Obremski said. “I think that’s really what the administration has to focus on is the transparency and the inclusion of families in these decisions.”
Committee Chair Jen McAndrew echoed Obremski’s feelings, adding that Kukenberger’s review with school leadership of other events and celebrations on the school calendar need to be done differently.
“I think it’s important that that review is very transparent, that the entire community gets to provide input and thought around that,” McAndrew said. She also said the move coming just over a week before the holiday did not help.
The damage, however, had already been done. People quickly were able to take over the narrative on social media, turning Kukenberger’s planned deemphasis of Halloween as the only thing to celebrate in the fall into a total cancelation of the celebration in Melrose and an all-out assault on the city’s culture, and the nation’s.
Kids still got to wear costumes to school this week, and the Chamber of Commerce announced that its traditional trick-or-treat activities were going to happen Friday afternoon, October 29 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Local businesses handed out candy to young trick or treaters Grade 3 and younger.