Princeton elementary school’s Halloween parade canceled in the name of inclusivity

The new principal for Riverside Elementary School in Princeton has canceled the traditional Halloween celebration and parade at the school in order to promote inclusivity.

Principal Ebony Lattimer told parents in an email on Sept. 21 that the Halloween celebration and parade would be eliminated as part of plans to build a more inclusive environment at the school.

“One of the ways we will do this is through pivoting from a Halloween celebration and parade, that in the past excluded many of our students, and having a Book Bonanza celebration,” Lattimer wrote. “This celebration will include the parade, socially distanced of course, but students will be asked to dress up as their favorite book character and celebrate why this character is their favorite. This includes comic books, books they enjoy at home, or school-provided books. This celebration will support two of our district goals for increased academic achievement and increased student attendance.”

Students sometimes don’t participate in Halloween activities at schools for religious or cultural reasons, or because of other issues like food allergies or sensory issues. Sometimes certain costumes children wear are also considered culturally insensitive. Some school leaders across the country are moving away from Halloween festivities altogether in order to promote inclusivity, while others are calling the day “black and orange spirit day.”

Officials at some other schools are seeking ways to continue the tradition but be more inclusive. Some schools offer non-food treats and adaptive costumes for special needs children, and provide lower-income children with costumes or help them make their own. The Teal Pumpkin Project promotes non-food trick-or-treat offerings for children with food allergies or other health or sensory issues.

Lattimer also noted in the email to parents that she is eliminating the school’s Valentine’s Day celebration in February and replacing it with an “Upstander Day” in February that she said will “highlight our students and the Riverside normative culture, as they display the upstander codes of respect, responsibility, safety, and positivity.”


  1. It’s unclear who is actually excluded by a Halloween parade. I say this as someone who understands that some religions do not celebrate it and that it might be a cost issue for some families. However, now any family who has a problem with it financially is going to end up buying a Halloween costume and a book bonanza costume (unless their child loves, say Harry Potter and thus the costume is a two-fer). Furthermore, canceling the parade, as well as canceling valentines day, ends up excluding a vast majority of students and their families who are fine with or even enjoy the two events. It’s kind of amazing that a brand new principal, without bothering to get any sense of the culture at the school, just issues this diktat from on high. Not a great way to start off your time at the school.

  2. The new principal’s decision was made in a tone deaf manner, without her bothering to take a reading of the community culture at the school. I’d be curious to know if any families actually complained about Halloween on either religio-cultural or financial grounds. I’m aware that Halloween is not celebrated by some observant people of various religions, although no one has ever mentioned this at the school to-date and this is a community where people make their voices heard. If your objection was for financial reasons, you now actually have to buy your child two costumes—one for Halloween and one for the Book Bonanza, unless you’re lucky enough to have a kid who wants to go as, say, Harry Potter, for both.

  3. The new principal’s decision was made within a few weeks of her arrival and before she bothered to take a reading of the school’s culture. I’d be curious to know how many families object to the Halloween Parade or the Valentine’s Party on either religio-cultural or financial grounds. I’m aware that Halloween is not celebrated by some observant people of various religions, although no one at the school has voiced any objections to either in the past and this is definitely a school community where people make their voices heard. If your objection to the parade was a financial one, now you have to buy two costumes–one for the book bonanza and one for Halloween (unless your child will be wiling to go as Harry Potter, for example, for both). It’s a shame that she appears to be thinking that her leadership gives her the unassailable right to do whatever she likes without consulting faculty, staff, or parents.

  4. This was Principal Lattimer’s first act, before she had even met anyone in the community or heard any feedback on this topic – or really any topic at all. Given her commitment to inclusivity, its deeply disappointing that she did not take a more inclusive approach to her decision-making on this topic. She has had a very rough start – I hope she solicits some community feedback and brings some ideas to the table on how we can improve the academic experience for the children of Riverside.

  5. What a miserable and silly decision. The one nice activity that the kids could enjoy outside in safety – cancelled without a good explanation. Who is this not inclusive too? Everyone is welcome to join. This principle is not shaping out to be any better than the last.

  6. Personally, I think this is a very brave and commendable move on the new principal’s part. Friends, we must remember that people of many different cultures call Princeton, home. Halloween, although is widely considered a secular holiday, ioriginated from Catholicism.

    A Book Bonanza where children can dress up, and parade as the characters of their favorite books seems like a PERFECT substitute celebration at an elementary school. You basically get to keep all the fun parts of a school halloween celebration anyway, but this version isn’t associated with anything religions… which is what public school should be…non-religious. Right? Right.

    Honestly, my heart breaks for the Muslim, Hindu, Mormon and and other religious children who have had to abstain from halloween in school and have been teased for it in years past. I think it’s great that Princeton Elementary is taking the steps to ensure that children of all cultures feel at home in school at all times of the year.

  7. this is the stupidest decision that I’ve ever seen – pretty soon we’ll have a reason to exclude everything – I have no idea what this woman is referring to. Keep narrowing your field of vision and soon you will see nothing.

  8. While I support the spirit of inclusivity, this was a misguided attempt by the new principal which completely missed the mark. True inclusion begins with community engagement and this was a unilateral decision. Decisions can’t be made in a vacuum and real efforts towards diversity, equity and inclusion are impactful when community members are at the table having their voices heard. Halloween has strong cultural connections to pre Christian celtic culture and provides much joy for our children. I hope our children are exposed to a diverse array of culture traditions from around the world rather than canceling Halloween. Now the economic equity issue is exacerbated as most families will have to purchase two costumes. Our children have had a rough last year and a half due to the pandemic and we need to provide more joy not less. Time to rethink this directive.

  9. Likely those with more limited funds (who can’t get costumes). The fallacy in this pathetic PC approach is that literally every Halloween costume could be based on a book character. So really, such a lame attempt at pushing an ultra PC agenda, but to no avail.

  10. Her first act was actually getting tents and tables together so lunches and snacks could be moved outdoors. To be clear, while all the schools in the district were still planning on lunch arrangements that unnecessarily put children at increased risk, Ms. Lattimer was already trying to find a way to have the kids eat lunch more safely. Riverside was the first school to be able to have kids outside while some schools still aren’t making it happen for all of their students, and that’s because she was looking into it in early August already. It’s easy to understand how her proposal for Halloween or Valentine’s Day may rattle some cages, but, just a guess here, aren’t there more urgent things we as parents can be concerned with? Do we fully understand as a community what the consequences of a major outbreak at one of our schools will entail? Anyone out there also wonder how many kids in our schools have underlying health conditions that may put them at risk for serious illness? Those of us that are fortunate enough to avoid any serious consequences will all surely groan when we have to quarantine or pivot to remote instruction, but couldn’t we be doing more to make that less likely? Isn’t that more important than Halloween? Sure her comment could have been framed differently, however well intentioned, but let’s not waste time stoking controversy lest we lose site of the real crisis in front of us: how to make schools safer for all of the kids in what is still a pandemic. Thanks, Ms. Lattimer, for working on that. And what can we as parents do to help with that both at school and at home?

  11. This isn’t about inclusivity… This is about someone having spent too much time on social media during the pandemic and allowing a much narrowed group of voices to influence their decision making ability.

    The same reason behind having so many more aggressively bat-sh*t crazy vocal alt-right types and conspiracy theorists right now is the same reason we’re seeing more stuff like this.

    Inclusivity shouldn’t be treated as an opportunity to make everyone equally miserable. This type of stuff helps literally no-one and just highlights differences while making people pissy at each other, creating more of an us verses them dialogue that pushes folks farther apart. It’s not progress, it’s just trending stupidity.

    Just allow the kids a fun and constantly evolving tradition and allow the parents of the kids who have a problem with it’s existence to remove the giant sticks from their asses.

  12. I am super confused—why would a Halloween parade be considered non-inclusive? I wish the article explained that because I’ve never heard this before.

  13. If you want to talk about inclusivity, let’s talk about how only the kids who attend Riverside will not get a Halloween celebration, while kids at other schools in the district are not affected by this decision. If this is such an important decree, then it should be made at the district level and not in a power grab by a new principal who has not yet connected with the community. In a time where the pandemic has taken away so much from our young ones, how does taking away the joy of Halloween, or the joy of receiving a Valentine from every single child in the class sound like a good idea? If you want equity, put the work in and tackle something that is a real problem.

  14. What? What happened to River Bear?? My kids loved that bear when they were there (many years ago).

  15. I think everyone’s missing the point – and Lattimer could possibly have better couched this act. What we’re looking at here is a *themed* Hallowe’en. As adults, we’ve had themed Hallowe’en celebrations and costume parties right and left – whether they were “toga parties” in college or “come as your favorite X” as adults. When I started working at Michaels, our store had a Hallowe’en costume theme every year: one year it was “Where’s Waldo”, another was “Alice in Wonderland”, and another was “Wizard of Oz”…

  16. Getting rid of Halloween and Valentine’s Day isn’t the end of the world, though I dread the thought of having to explain to my kids that yet another joyful, communal event has been cancelled, after a grueling year and a half of isolation and disrupted schooling, and I hope that Ms. Lattimer will reconsider (plus having to come up with extra costumes — yikes!). But I am very concerned about what this decision signals about her judgment and non-inclusive style of decision-making. Our children are suffering both academically and emotionally because of the pandemic, and to lead by picking an unnecessary and destructive fight on a trivial topic when there is so much real work to be done — it just doesn’t bode well for the future. Hopefully this is just a rookie mistake. I do so want a dedicated, thoughtful, and sensitive principal who will be invested in Riverside’s community for the long term.

  17. Sure, that’s true about lunch tents and totally appreciated. But the majority of parents are also concerned with their children social and emotional well-being. We all know that has been significantly impacted negatively during this pandemic. Furthermore, now Riverside is the one school were kids don’t have a Halloween parade? Wow, way to make your impact and make lots of kids feel left out. As someone noted above, Halloween is actually not a Catholic holiday.
    And as someone else noted, she also just decided to throw out our school mascot. Without any explanation to the kids. She just decided that since he seemed a little dirty, or so the story goes, she would just ditch him. People in our neighborhood, whose children are in their 20s, heard that river bear was thrown out and they and their adult children are upset. She’s just not taking the time to read the room, at all.

  18. Well put! If you want to be inclusive, as you know, you need to include community members when making a decision. We all hope this is just an early hiccup…

  19. This is getting out of hand. Please note:
    1. The children are still going to have a parade and the title of this article is misleading and should be edited.
    2. She was not the originator of this idea. The article mentions that several schools have taken this approach.
    The delivery could have been different but let’s also remember she is a new principal to the district, less than 2 weeks in, during a pandemic.
    Let’s handle the issues at our school privately instead of broadcasting to the world. The Facebook post of this article is full of racist, political and unrelated remarks. It’s absolutely disgusting that her photo was posted. Don’t give disgruntled folks an avenue to air their unrelated grievances. Let’s work together, support the new principal and keep our community wonderful. Email her, speak to her, give her a chance.

  20. This is misleading as the children will still have a parade.

    For the sake of our wonderful community the author of this article should edit the title:

    Princeton elementary school’s Halloween parade canceled in the name of inclusivity…
    *replaced with book character parade*

  21. Actually the Principal’s first act was to throw out or get rid of the Riverbear that has sat in the lobby for many, many years. She did this without asking anyone. When asked what happened to the bear, the Principal said that it was old and she threw it out. Staff and families are shocked! The Riverbear has been a long standing part of the Riverisde Elementary culture. Students who are upset, who are having a tough morning acclimating, or just need something to calm them and put a smile on their face hug, sit, or greet the bear. Some students do this every day. The Riverbear has a long history of supporting not only Riverside but Littlebrook Elementary too. Many families are quite upset that there was so little regard or respect for something so precious. This is not a good example of an Upstander action.

  22. Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Orthodox Jews some evangelical Christians, some Hindus, some Mormons–don’t celebrate Halloween. In Debby Irving’s book “Waking Up White” she talks about a school community in which children not permitted to celebrate Halloween in costume at school had to stay indoors and watch everyone else enjoy the Halloween parade outside. Realizing this was hard for those children, the school and its students re-thought their celebration, and came up with the idea of the parade of favorite book characters. I don’t know what the process was at Riverside–perhaps some folks are reacting to the apparent “imposition” of this change by the principal. It sounds like she did not use a communal process to educate students, parents and teachers, in order to bring them on board. And as for her proposed change for Valentine’s Day, it’s shifting the focus from romantic love (including a lot of sexual undertones and overtones) to love and caring for all human beings, which we certainly need more of these days. I do recommend that you read Irving’s book–it sympathetically traces her own journey from unconsciously accepting her membership in the dominant (white, Christian) culture to understanding things from the perspectives of those whose customs and beliefs differed from hers. A white person can read it without worry of being castigated and blamed, and hopefully come away with an expanded understanding of what it feels like to be out of the mainstream, and what we can do about it.

  23. Where with this lead? Does diversity mean getting rid of all cultural traditions? What else will we get rid of? Will all holiday celebrations be eliminated? Shouldn’t diversity mean celebrating more traditions insterad of taking away everything? Diversity is what makes things beautiful. :Et’s incorporate more cultural traditions and celebrate all rather than taking it all away.

  24. Principal Lattimer has indicated that Halloween and Valentine’s Day will remain as normal this year, and that there will be a more inclusive conversation going forward. Thank you, Ms. Lattimer! This was the right call!

  25. Email from principal:

    Dear Riverside Families:

    I realize we’re still learning more about each other. Still, I hope your early takeaways will be that my top desires are to provide an effective learning environment inclusive of all of our students and that I will always listen and engage with the school community I serve. The Halloween parade has historically resulted in a few students opting out and staying home for religious or cultural reasons. Therefore, I was striving to create an option that every student could enjoy.

    From the feedback I have received, I realize that this will require a more profound discussion before we can make a firm decision. Our school and district greatly value parent and family engagement in guiding decision-making. Therefore, we will continue with the traditional holiday activities for this school year and have school-wide discussions for potential changes in the future.

    I appreciate your continued partnership and urge you to continue to lend your voice to every conversation.

    Principal Ebony Lattimer
    Riverside Elementary School

  26. As an Iranian American, I know a ton of Muslim people who love Halloween. I don’t know any who don’t. Also reliog is dangerous and lazy and should be outlawed. All of them.

  27. Now if she’d just install a replacement Riverbear at her own expense, we’d be back to square one. Else she’s still in the hole, as far as I’m concerned. These blunders do not bode well.

  28. This.

    The far-left (which this dogma flows from) is just as bad as the far-right. Does anyone who celebrates Halloween actually do so because they are attempting to ward off ghosts (its true origin)? No. The answer is no.

    This has *nothing* to do with inclusivity and all to do with coddling. If you’re determined to step out of the role of teaching hard skills (which, you shouldn’t, as this is should be in the province of parents), how about re-inforcing resiliency instead of victimhood.

    Enough has been taken from kids for the last couple of years. Leave fun alone.

    If eliminating Halloween parades is an important issue for you, I’m genuinely happy for you, as you seem to have no actual problems in life. Cancer is a big deal. Heart disease is a big deal. Buzz Lightyear, Elsa, and mummy costumes are not.

  29. Funny. This is when words like « inclusivity » and « diversity » have completely lost their meaning because of the continuous exploitation of them without achieving any concrete improvement on any of the social issues involved. Sure, in a town where 99% of people are offended by everything, and where those 2 words are repeated ad nauseam by this 99% of people, now in the name of those words, fun stuff is cancelled and their lives are affected. The new principal might have been pandering to the work cried but forgot to ask them who is to be punished, whose lives and livelihoods should be ruined, etc. , her mistake is to do it without checking with the social warriors and sensitivities’ experts hehehe. People need to loosen up and simply stop the virtue signaling, the being so easily offended, the jumping on a time machine to judge everybody for past mistakes lots of times committed in the privacy of their homes, and in cases, decades ago, in the past century even, the continuous “culture appropriation” nonsense that forbids an innocent child to dress as Pocahontas or Mulan that are Disney’s characters. Well, well, well, this is actually funny, those words came back to bite them. And by the way, Halloween and Valentine’s are not cancelled, simply they won’t be celebrated at a school, and after all, why should they be? Come on, celebrate them at home, plan a neighbourhood parade, buy those costumes and all the candy in the world; children will be ok, at the end it is always parents who make a big deal out of nothing, it is always those whose lives are privileged the ones who start the culture wars because the ones actually suffering discrimination or the lack of equity and equality, have more important and practical things to worry about than a costume, cornrows, or a school name.

  30. You really need to research the origins of Halloween. It is not a Catholic holiday. All Souls/ Saints Day Is a holy day. November 1st. Halloween started in paganism as harvest rites.

  31. Thank you for this. Fully support both ideas to “re-do” Halloween and V-day for exactly these reasons.

  32. Something is very wrong here. At the very least she really needs to buy a new Riverbear for the school.

  33. This decision definitely could have been executed better AND I am concerned about tying politics to this decision. The Halloween in schools issue has nothing to do with being “woke” or “far-left.” Our conservative school district we used to attend in VA got rid of traditional Halloween costumes and replaced with “fall-fest” or a book character parade 10 years ago. A simple Google search on the potential issues highlights some of the concerns and the history but people were not given the opportunity to do that. PPS does have REAL issues with academic inequity and I look forward to her focusing on those problems as well.


  35. Costumes based on book characters seems like a better, more inclusive alternative. Is there a list of approved books for parents to use when selecting their child’s costume?

  36. Totally agree. Framing this proposal as “woke” or “ultra liberal” or even new just sounds silly to just about anyone that had to grow up around white Southern Baptists or white Pentecostals, some of which have a genuinely 17th-century puritanical paranoia about anything from Halloween to Death Metal or alcohol, pinball, and video arcades. And those fundamentalists are probably the furthest from being considered “woke” or even moderately progressive.

    The justification for the current rebranding was described as accommodating folks of different religious backgrounds that found the holiday objectionable (among those mentioned in one meeting were certain Christian sects). All this is to say that there are more layers to this than some of the commentators are acknowledging. But also too a certain reality check on traditions as practiced in the present: Halloween is, not unlike Christmas has certainly become for some, an essentially secular occasion with no recognizable religious or spiritual underpinning. On the contrary, it has been commodified just about like everything else in the US, and I would challenge anyone to find anyone that genuinely celebrates it religiously, save a few Wicca and SCA enthusiasts. (And they’re not out with the trick or treaters now are they?)

    Just as the pagan rites that would become Christmas several centuries ago were lost to many of the most devout believers, so to has any remote religious meaning been lost to current trick or treaters. Knowledge of that history reveals very little about what the holiday means to people in the present. The holiday is today what it is in practice—essentially an exercise for kids in dressing up in largely store-bought costumes based on movie characters as they venture out to accumulate the most free candy from their neighbors, already pushed on consumers now in early September.

    Should we have a conversation about what values this kind of fun instills in children? Absolutely. Is there some reason for revision? Sure. Should we allow that the religious meaning attached to an essentially secular holiday supersede how current enthusiasts celebrate it? Totally not, and for the very same reasons we allow that a secular meaning prevail for a host of other things in our society, like choice, birth control, marriage equality, dancing, the teaching of evolution or the Big Bang and, of course, the current pandemic. It’s not actually a plague just because some charlatan evangelist types say it is or there’s a remote history of pandemics being experienced and interpreted as religious phenomena. Likewise, we shouldn’t allow public health policy to accommodate these beliefs if we want actual results in this world.

    That’s why the path I assume we’ve chosen to address it is a secular one informed by empirical evidence and scientific inquiry, not the laying of hands, speculations about “God’s will,” prayer, or the arbitrary scapegoating of some unfortunate party targeted by zealots. This is all to reiterate that we all have an actual emergency in front of us that is totally indifferent to anyone’s religious beliefs, and it’s not Halloween.

    It’s the fact that 77 kids were exposed to COVID at the high school this week, and there will likely be many, many more. If it can happen this week at the high school, it can very well happen next week at the elementary school, only those kids are too young to be vaccinated.

    How many of those could have underlying health conditions themselves that could end up putting them or family members in the hospital? We should all be asking this district how they’re going to modify their protocols to better hinder what is now looking to be inevitable. For under the present conditions, even the most conservative forecasts make an in-person, school-sponsored Halloween parade pretty unlikely, no matter the branding or format.

  37. This has all the appearance of a handful of entitled White parents putting the new African American principal in “her place”. Her idea sounds terrific to me. I always thought that Halloween was a shallow, commercial, meaningless celebration, one more occasion for wealthy families to flash their superior status with extravagant costumes and parties, and for children from less privileged families, or from other cultures to feel totally out of place. Princeton, once again, rises to any occasion of drawing lines in the sand to make sure we know who’s who. Those families who want to celebrate can do so after school, at home or taking their kids out trick or treating, but let’s not use school time and facilities to exclude certain children, or make those with less means feel inferior.

  38. Totally agree! Well said. Entitled folks cringing when someone calls attention to their costume party. Rather than confront their blind spots they fault the messenger.

  39. Haven’t our children been through enough? Let them have some fun without a constant barrage of hand-wringing. Such a miserable world-view when a parade or Valentine’s Day party becomes the problem. And I dare say there are many families who don’t appreciate their religions/customs always being used as the reason fun stuff is canceled. Why not just take an online survey and do what the majority of your school parents want?

  40. Princeton Pot Shops on a street near you: Parents should be more outraged that the Princeton Cannabis TaskForce advising the Princeton mayor and council wants to opt back in to have at least three retail recreational pot dispensaries within walking distance of your schools and homes.

  41. At this school, math proficiency is 60-64% and reading proficiency is 70-74%. This is a smokescreen to distract us from those embarrassing numbers.

  42. I think that’s actually the real point that people are concerned about. Not that the Halloween parade was going to be canceled and Valentine’s Day to, but rather that the principal’s first decisions (aside from the tents)revolved around things that are not improving education, especially addressing Covid learning loss. Anyone who is choosing to read this as a bunch of entitled white people getting pissed off about the loss of some fun for their kids is misunderstanding the actual situation. The school has had four principals since Mr. Cirullo’s death. That’s a lot of upheaval for teachers and children alike. This new principal’s commitment needs to be to improving educational outcomes for all the children at the school. She shouldn’t be pursuing her own personal agenda about holidays.

  43. My neighbors are Indians and Chinese. I’m almost 100% certain they’re not Catholics, yet their children absolutely love Halloween.

  44. Do you seriously hear yourself?
    “She shouldn’t be pursuing her own personal agenda about holidays.”
    The principal is allowed to have an opinion about Halloween and Valentine’s Day and how school celebrations can include more children.
    Last time I checked this wasn’t a crime nor grounds for removal. She was asked by parents and gave a response. It would seem that the parents are the ones with their priorities backwards and owe this woman an apology for inciting this feud and using the town hall to push their own agendas. You are putting all of our children at risk by pushing this nonsense. Enough. Let the woman focus on her job i.e. our children.

  45. Wait — if you don’t agree with someone you’re “putting them in their place”? And Halloween is a privileged white holiday? In what universe? When I was a kid, kids would literally throw an old sheet that their mom was going to throw out over them and cut out two holes for eyes. One time I painted a big box and went with someone as a pair of dice. One time I went as a tube of toothpaste. Way to go to flash our “superior status” !!

  46. People are so easily offended about everything these days. The way Halloween is celebrated today is not meant to delve into its origins. It is a day for children and adults to HAVE FUN! When I was young I didn’t care about Halloween’s religious undertones, I just wanted to go “Trick or Treating” and get candy. I don’t observe other cultural religious beliefs, nor do I make a big stink about them when they are celebrated. We are doing a great disservice to our youth because of Political Correctness. There are way too many dividing lines in our communities because someone claims that they feel offended.

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