Halloween, Valentine’s school events canceled; East Lansing parents protest

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EAST LANSING – The cancellation of Halloween and Valentine’s Day celebrations over equity issues ignited objections from parents at the Oct. 25 East Lansing school board meeting.

Several parents opposed the policy. Lorely Polanco, who has a child in elementary school, read an email she had sent to Superintendent Dori Leyko. Polanco spoke of her own understanding of diversity as an immigrant.

“Diversity entails choice,” Polanco said. “And uniformity is the opposite of diversity. The choice to not dress up and not attend school that day was always possible. However, you have now taken the choice of being able to participate from all of us who do wish to participate.”

A father, Mike Feldpausch, was more concerned with the process and procedure.

“It was dismissive to say that the decision needed to be made by professionals.” Feldpausch said. “I’m not here to say that the decision … was necessarily wrong. I just think it was done extremely quickly, and I think it should’ve been done with parental input.”

Feldpausch was referring to a statement by Leyko that the decision should have been made by professionals, including teachers and social justice specialists. She also expressed her view that the outrage would have been the same whether parents were included or not.

“It would have caused divisiveness in the community,” Leyko said. “Folks rallying around their chosen cause and even greater social media uproar. And I believe we still would not have had full representation of our families.”

Board members supported the cancellations. Kath Edsall pointed to “institutional problems of poverty and racism” that she said have led some students to feel shame during the holidays.

“We did not cancel Halloween, that is not within our power.” Edsall said. What we did is end the class divisions that show up significantly on celebrations like Valentine’s Day and Halloween.”

Although no parent supported the measure at the meeting, the board members said they had received positive feedback through private channels.

One such parent is Meaghan Gonzalez, a mother of eight, all either graduated from or currently in East Lansing Schools. Gonzalez, who was not at the meeting, said she is pleased that the school district is reinforcing her understanding of local diversity and keeping disadvantaged families in mind.

“Our school district is in a unique situation where we have the ability to host children from all over the world,” Gonzalez said. “I thought we are trying to create a community of diverse inclusion, not a community of alienation of children who do not celebrate Halloween and Hallmark holidays.”

The next school board meeting is on Nov. 8.

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