Halloween's scary monsters challenged Some area schools discourage horrors

October 25, 1990|By Sandra Crockett

Erica Schwartz is dressing up as a vampire this Halloween and doesn't think anyone should be worried about that.

"Halloween is about scary stuff," said Erica, 10, a fifth-grader at Mount Washington Elementary School in Baltimore. "It's not real."

Aaron Mason disagrees. He thinks children could be affected by their costumes and, after talking it over with his mother, the Mount Washington fourth-grader decided to be a mouse this year.

"If you are going to be a mass murderer for Halloween, I mean, maybe when you grow up you might find that interesting," said Aaron, 9.

The childrens' choices sum up a discussion cropping up in area schools this Halloween, a reaction to concerns of some parents about violent or Satanic costumes.

Educators are trying to persuade youngsters not to wear anything devilish or gruesome to school, and even the word Halloween is being replaced by such terms as "fall festival."

"We do talk to the kids about that," said Beverly L. Norwood, principal of Dundalk Elementary School in Baltimore County. "We try to encourage the kids to wear fun things instead of things that can be frightful and detrimental."

Ms. Norwood isn't alone. Principals of at least two elementary schools in Howard County, along with Mount Washington in Baltimore, have sent notes home to parents encouraging them to steer children away from gruesome or violent costumes.

Last year in Frederick County, school Superintendent Noel T. Farmer Jr. circulated a memo reminding everyone that some parents object "to the celebration of Halloween during school hours because they view this day as one which honors Satan."

He decided to let principal fashion their own celebrations of "this autumn festival," as the memo put it, essentially the same policy used in Baltimore-area school systems.

Despite the subtle persuasion -- and much to the dismay of educators -- costumes like Freddie Krueger, the popular slasher from the movie "Nightmare on Elm Street," are still a big hit with students.

Joe Wilson, the principal at Mount Washington Elementary, shook his head at the mention of Freddie Krueger. "He certainly isn't a good role model," he said with a smile of resignation.

But there are signs that the message is hitting home. When asked which costumes were popular among her second-grade peers at Dundalk Elementary, 8-year-old Jennifer Gensler said "bunny rabbits."

Among parents and students, however, there is debate about the wisdom of worrying about costumes.

"My own feeling is that if an 8-year-old goes trick-or-treating dressed up as a devil, that doesn't automatically make him a Satanist," said a Howard County parent, who asked not to be named.

"Halloween is a tradition that has served children well for generations," the parent added. "Why try to wipe it out now?"

But Carmella Veit, head of the Parent-Teacher Association in Baltimore County, understands the concern over costumes.

"There may be just a feeling that they want to reduce the hero-like [violent] figures and suggest other things," Mrs. Veit said.

Paula Sexton, a parent with a daughter in kindergarten at Dundalk Elementary, said it is important for parents to consider what their children wear -- at least to make sure they know it's all fantasy.

"I talk to my kids and tell them that this is make-believe," said Mrs. Sexton, whose 5-year-old Katie will be a witch for the school Halloween parade this year.

Rosemary Mortimer, president of the Howard County-Parent Teacher Association, said she hopes there never comes a day when schools institute Halloween dress codes but that parents should think about what their young children wear.

"Parents need to use some discretion," said Mrs. Mortimer, whose son Patchen, 12, will be "a toxic-waste victim."

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