A Seattle-area school district has banned Halloween activities partly because the celebrations and costumes might be offensive to real witches.

Offensive to witches?

“Witches with pointy noses and things like that are not respective symbols of the Wiccan religion, and so we want to be respectful of that,” said Puyallup School District spokeswoman Karen Hansen, according to KOMO television in Seattle.

Students brought home a letter to their parents yesterday stating there would be no observance of Halloween in the entire school district.

Hansen explained the district supertintendent made the decision for three primary reasons. Along with the concern about hurting Wiccans, the parties are regarded as a waste of valuable classroom time, and some families can’t afford costumes.

“We really want to make sure we’re using all of our time in the best interest of our students,” she told KOMO.

How much of the decision to cancel is based on study time and how much on religious reasons?

“It’s a little bit of both,” said Hansen. “I don’t think you can balance respect with instructional time and we would always be looking to do both. We want to make sure our students are respectful of all religions and all cultures.”

KOMO interviewed disgruntled parents at Puyallup’s Maplewood Elementary School where the tradition has been to set aside the last half-hour of class before Halloween night for a party and parade of costumes.

“They’re so worried about being politically correct anymore that we’re not allowed to do much of anything,” said Tonya Reynolds, whose daughter attends Maplewood Elementary.

At least one parent plans to bring the issue to the next school board meeting.

The school district’s guidelines on holidays and celebrations include the statement, “Use of derogatory stereotypes is prohibited, such as the traditional image of a witch, which is offensive to members of the Wiccan religion.”

But this is the first year the superintendent has cited that concern, KOMO reported.

Members of the Wiccan religion, which has groups in Puyallup, often try to challenge the stereotypes, asserting they celebrate nature and not Satan.

An internal e-mail by the school district from October 2000, according to KOMO, stated “the Wiccan religion is a bona fide religion under the law, and its followers are entitled to all the protections afforded more mainstream religions. Building administrators should not tolerate such inappropriate stereotyping (images such as Witches on flying brooms, stirring cauldrons, casting spells, or with long noses and pointed hats) and instead address them as you would hurtful stereotypes of any other minority.”

Hanson said that while classroom time will not be used for Halloween, the PTA and teachers have been informed they can hold related events after normal school hours.

The district will address concerns about other holidays on a case by case basis, she told KOMO.

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