A Berkeley elementary school was met with generally positive reception after sending out a flyer Wednesday with guidelines for racially and ethnically based Halloween costumes.
The flyer, sent to parents of Rosa Parks Elementary School students, outlined general guidelines for the annual Halloween parade hosted by the school the Friday before Halloween.
The guidelines included established rules against bringing weapons, such as knives and swords, to campus as well as any costumes that are “frightening, horrible, bloody, terrifying, or terribly gruesome,” according to the flyer.
This year, however, the flyer also included a two-page attachment written by teacher Joemy Ito-Gates asking families to keep in mind the potentially discomforting effects racially, ethnically and culturally based Halloween costumes could have on other students.
According to Ito-Gates, the flyer was requested by the school’s equity committee, composed of parents and teachers, including Ito-Gates.
“Every year I have seen students wear ethnically, racially and culturally based costumes,” Ito-Gates said. “I think it’s really important to start planting these seeds early on how to be respectful of other cultures around them.”
The school has also started a cultural sensitivity training for its staff as recommended by the district and assigned equity teacher leaders for every school, who meet twice a month. Rosa Parks elementary Principal Paco Furlan said he hoped this flyer would foster an open dialogue between parents and their children regarding cultural sensitivity.
“We just want to make sure everyone feels respected,” Furlan said. According to Furlan, over half of the demographic at the school is composed of nonwhite students.
“For (many), a ‘Hello Amigo’ costume or an ‘Arab’ costume is not a costume — it is a tradition and culture,” Furlan added.
Parent Teacher Association Treasurer Cory Reisbord said in an email that he was supportive of the flyer and the school’s goal of “making sure that nobody’s ethnic or cultural traditions are being borrowed for Halloween costumes in an unthinkingly clownish or stereotyped way.”
According to Furlan and members of the school’s PTA, the school has yet to receive complaints from parents regarding the recommendation. He also said it was “strange” the media had picked up this particular story in the six years he has been working at the school.
Jennifer Cornish, PTA president, said the guidelines were just recommendations and not a direct ban against racially or ethnically based costumes.
Ito-Gates added that the flyer is a recommendation and that no students will necessarily be prohibited from participating in the parade because of their costume.