There will be no kiddie costume parade, no classroom candy handouts this year in Puyallup's public schools.The district put the kibosh on all Halloween festivities during school hours, enforcing a policy that's been in place for several years but is being applied for the first time to Oct. 31 celebrations.
District officials say the ban is largely a matter of religious sensitivity -- to Wiccans.
Assistant Superintendent Tony Apostle advised Puyallup principals in a memo last week that Halloween costumes and parties are now banned. Pumpkins and cornstalks are fine, he said, but witches, black cats or "similar decorations that are intended to frighten or scare individuals" are not.
Halloween is a religious holiday for Wiccans, the memo noted, and its celebration in mainstream culture has generated unsavory images that might offend real-life witches.
"Building administrators should not tolerate such inappropriate stereotyping (images such as witches on flying brooms, stirring caldrons, casting spells, or with long noses and pointed hats)," Apostle's memo states.
But one Wiccan leader was cynical about the school district's motivation.
Pete Davis, pastor of Aquarian Tabernacle Church in tiny Index, west of Stevens Pass, suggests that the ban is a thinly veiled attempt to banish a holiday seen by some Christians as an evil festival.
Davis said the ancient Celtic holiday of Samh'ain, which traditionally marked the last harvest of the year, has been misinterpreted by some as a celebration of "Samhain" -- supposedly a satanic god of the dead.
"The religious right has for years been trying to put an end to any Halloween celebrations," he said.
Wiccans -- who practice a pagan, earth-based religion -- are used to the stereotypes accompanying Halloween, Davis said.
"It's something we're not exactly excited about -- the evil witch with the green face -- but it's part of our culture, and it's never going to go away."
District spokeswoman Karen Hansen said Puyallup schools moved away from observing religious holidays years ago, switching from Christmas concerts to "winter festivals" and other secular celebrations.
Halloween was a holiday with "some wiggle room," Hansen said, and decisions about recognizing it were left to schools. Hansen knew of only one -- Maplewood Elementary -- that paid homage to trick-or-treaters with a costume parade every year.
But as the district reviewed its instructional programs going into the school year, administrators felt that the push for greater academic achievement left little room for Halloween frivolity. Besides, Hansen said, costumes are a distraction for students.
"Their focus becomes partying, candy, trick-or-treating," she said.
Seattle Public Schools has no official policy on Halloween celebrations, but spokeswoman Patti Spencer said many schools have replaced the holiday with "harvest celebrations" and other observances.
"In many of our schools we have quite a few students whose families don't celebrate the traditional Halloween," she said. "So we want to move toward things that are more inclusive."
A Puyallup parent, Holly Cockerham, said while her third-grade daughter had fun wearing her Sleeping Beauty costume to school last year, she's not overly disappointed about the new restriction.
"They're not losing Halloween. They're still going trick-or-treating," she said. "I don't think it's that big of an issue myself."
P-I reporter Deborah Bach can be reached at 206-448-8197 or email@example.com