Riverside School reinstates Halloween parade after parents’ outcry

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LEA KAHN/STAFF
Riverside School, Princeton

The Riverside School’s annual Halloween parade and celebration, which was going to be dropped in favor of a “book bonanza” celebration that would also include a parade, will go on as planned next month.

Riverside School Principal Ebony Lattimer, who took over as principal Aug. 23, wrote in a Sept. 22 email to parents that the Halloween parade and celebration was being called off in the interests of building a more inclusive environment at the elementary school.

In its place, Lattimer wrote, the school would sponsor a Book Bonanza celebration. She emphasized that the celebration would include a parade. Students would be asked to dress up in costumes representing their favorite book character.

Lattimer wrote that the Halloween parade and celebration had excluded some students, so that’s why she was going to substitute the Book Bonanza celebration for Halloween. The new celebration would help to build a more inclusive environment, she said.

The Book Bonanza also would help the Riverside School in meeting the Princeton Public Schools’ goals for increased academic achievement and increased student attendance, she wrote.

But two days later, in response to parental feedback, Lattimer reversed course and wrote in a Sept. 24 email to the Riverside School community that the Halloween parade would be held as planned.

Lattimer wrote that the Halloween parade and celebration had “historically” resulted in some students opting out and staying home for religious or cultural reasons, so she was trying to create an option – the Book Bonanza – that every student could enjoy.

“(But) from the feedback I have received, I realize this will require a more profound discussion before we can make a firm decision,” Lattimer wrote, leaving the door open to potential changes.

Since the Riverside School and the Princeton Public Schools value parent and family engagement in the decision-making process, she wrote, “we will continue with the traditional holiday activities for this school year and have school-wide discussions for potential changes in the future.”

Lattimer also had called for eliminating the annual Valentine’s Day celebration in favor of “Upstander Day” – also aimed at increasing inclusivity. It would have focused on the school’s “Upstander Codes” of respect, responsibility, safety and positivity.

But when “Upstander Day” met with parental opposition, it was dropped in favor of holding Valentine’s Day for this school year. Lattimer acknowledged parental feedback in her Sept. 24 email to the Riverside Community.

“I realize we’re still learning more about each other,” Lattimer wrote, and that she hoped that parents would understand that her top priority is to provide an effective learning environment that is inclusive of all students.

“I will always listen and engage with the school community I serve,” she wrote.

Superintendent of Schools Carol Kelley applauded Lattimer for proposing new and creative opportunities for learning and inclusivity, and commended her handling of the school community’s response.

“What is always tricky as a leader is balancing your ideas with the decision-making process of engaging and involving the people you serve,” Kelley said.

Lattimer is not closing the door on the proposed options, but pausing to have deeper discussions with Riverside School families, Kelley said. Parent and family engagement are the fabric of Princeton Public Schools, she said.