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October 31. 2012 11:58PM

In Nashua, kids skip costumes, goodies

The students of Hudson's Hills Garrison Elementary paraded triumphantly around the school in hundreds of costumes, from the gory to the angelic to the absurd, following behind the Alvirne High School marching band. One town away, in Nashua, such celebrations are banned.

Commercial costumes are only allowed for kindergartners and first-grade students, they must be nonviolent, and, if older kids are to wear them, they should encourage student creativity. Celebrations in Nashua are to be carried out at the classroom level, and not based around costumes.

School Superintendent Mark Conrad said with growing diversity in Nashua's classrooms, adults have to accept that schools won't always be like they were.

"Times change for schools and communities change," he said. "(In) a community that's become as diverse as ours ... we seek to strike a balance and to respect different family values that may come into the classroom."

Students are also discouraged from bringing sweets to school, in response to federal nutrition policy guidelines, Conrad said next year non-nutritious items such as cupcakes are prohibited. Federal nutrition guidelines do not ban cupcakes; those decisions are being made at the local level, he said.

"The days of serving candy at Halloween parties at schools, I think, are long gone," Conrad said

Conrad said the district has had Halloween guidelines in place since 1996. They allow schools to make their own choices about Halloween, but with boundaries.

New Searles Elementary has a half-hour celebration in each classroom around a fall theme. At Ledge Street Elementary, students are discouraged from wearing costumes. Principal Janet Valeri said the holiday doesn't square with the school's "eat healthy" message.

"We need to celebrate Halloween with some healthy snacks in the classroom, but these grand-scheme things where teachers are dressed up and it's just a six-hour party, we're trying to ask kids to eat healthier, and most of the time Halloween has turned into a candy festival," Valeri said.

Even without celebrating at the schools, she said kids are wound up during Halloween week and it negatively affects their performance in school; the more schools make Halloween into a social event, the more they're giving the day away.

Jennifer Slattery of Hudson, who came to see her fifth-grader in Wednesday's parade at Hills Garrison Elementary, said she disagrees with how Nashua schools treat Halloween.

"It's a cultural practice that we do," said Jennifer Slattery of Hudson. "Kids in other cultures ... obviously, they don't have to participate if they don't want to."

Her husband, Scott Slattery, agrees. "It's one time a year," he said. "Has political correctness gotten so out of control that we can't celebrate Halloween?"

Nashua mom Homa Jaferey, whose kids are 17 and 14, said students have no business dressing up for the occasion.

"It's just crazy; they get carried away with it," she said, noting the practice encourages some girls to go to school scantily clad.

Standing outside Hills Garrison Elementary directing parade traffic Wednesday afternoon, Principal Marilyn Martellini said Halloween celebrations are just as much fun for the staff as for the students.

"You need to have a happy balance," she said.

Stewart Kroner, whose fourth-grader came to school dressed as an angel, agreed with Martellini.

"They need to celebrate holidays and get a break from the school," Kroner said. "I think it helps them learn a little bit better than day after day of the same thing."

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Simon Rios may be reached at srios@newstote.com.


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