Boards of education say the costumes ‘create a hostile environment for students of different races, religions, genders and identities’
The districts of the Bronx and Manhattan, located in New York City, have banned “Squid Game” Halloween costumes to “create a safe, welcoming and inclusive learning environment” for their students.
The bans, first reported by DNAinfo, run contrary to the headquarters of city’s schools department’s (DOE) official stance that “halloween costumes are freedom of expression”.
“As Halloween season approaches, do we all have fun with our costumes? Absolutely,” DOE spokeswoman Devora Kaye told the publication. “But let’s also let’s remember we’re preparing and educating children in an environment free from the type of harassment, intimidation and bullying that inevitably occurs.”
Kaye’s statement comes amid a recent pushback from family and faith-based groups, who claim that groups of children pretending to play “gay penguins” is inviting bullying. Among the titles they selected for the costumes are “Galapagos Penguin”, “Asian White Trump”, “Hispanic Bigfoot” and “Jewish Nerd Aliens”. The unpopular Halloween options angered self-described “Orthodox Jews” in particular.
But according to DOE guidelines, costume ideas must be judged individually.
“Different families and faiths have different beliefs about what costumes are appropriate,” a spokesperson told the Guardian. “The department supports the right of each school and every child to select their costumes in a safe and welcoming school environment. The PS 122 principal will work with parents and students to understand each community’s concern and to ensure costumes are not harmful to anyone.”
The rules and guidelines were brought up last year during New York state governor Andrew Cuomo’s push to pass protections for LGBTQ students. Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh introduced the bill, the “Transgender Youth Protection Act”, following controversy over a high school football player who wanted to play with his female teammates. Cuomo said the controversial incident showed the need for protections, even as NY school districts vote against them.
Now, parents attending PS 122 are reportedly uneasy about the ban, as are those in several other school districts in the city.
“I am outraged that now the DOE is backing away from a policy that has been upheld for years, despite the lack of clear guidance and guidance that the DOE has given the schools,” said Ronit Koren (née Tanenbaum), a member of the gay Jewish Defense League, who in 2008 sued New York for denying her uniform for gay pride on Halloween. She was sued and won the case.
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And while activists long disputed the claim that “gay penguins” is indeed a game, some LGBTQ families are dismayed by the appearance of images that stereotype traditional gender roles.
“The LGBTQ community isn’t opposed to being respectful, sensitive and progressive, and can support holding public offices and working in the public sphere,” the Forward reported in a recent editorial. “But there are some things you just can’t pull on a Halloween costume.”
In a recent email, Michele Lennon, president of the LGBT Parents Association of New York, told the Guardian, “There is no clarification nor commitment from the DOE, no forthcoming forums, it’s not even given as an option, to design an appropriate holiday costume.”
The community leader called for the department to define, and enforce, the use of inclusive costumes, so that students are “safe and able to express themselves”.
And in the meantime, families in the city, as in New York state, are deciding whether they will allow their children to attend school regardless of the displays.