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DeKalb students wear pajamas instead of costumes to school

DeKALB – Tyler Reidl said he liked wearing his pajamas to school Friday, but part of him wished he could have celebrated Halloween with his classmates.

“I don’t want to make a big fuss over it because they made it pretty clear that we can’t,” said Tyler, a fifth-grader at Tyler Elementary School. “I like having pajamas; I just wish we could celebrate Halloween on Monday.” 

This is the second year students at Tyler Elementary have not been allowed to wear Halloween costumes to school. Instead of holiday-themed parties, DeKalb schools now have quarterly celebrations recognizing students for reaching behavior goals.

The districtwide change was approved as an update to the parent/student handbook at a June 7 school board meeting.

“As [District 428] continues to work to create and cultivate educational environments that reflect the core tenets of social justice, we believe holiday celebrations belong to families,” the handbook policy said.

Friday’s celebration at Tyler Elementary included a pajama party and a “Pajama Jammy Jam” dance.

Fifth-grader T.J. Fontana, who forgot to wear his pajamas, said he was only slightly upset that he couldn’t wear a costume.

“I used to love wearing Halloween costumes, and pajama day is something we kind of do every once in a while,” T.J. said. “So, I was a little mad, but now it’s fine.”

Maurice McDavid, parent of a kindergartner at Tyler Elementary, said his family does not celebrate Halloween for religious reasons, and having students wear pajamas to school instead of costumes gave his son an easier time fitting in.

“At this level, I think it makes sense,” McDavid said. “Most kids have a pair of pajama pants, so there’s a little bit more equity as opposed to having to go out and buy a costume they’re only going to wear once.”

McDavid also is the dean of students at DeKalb High School, and he said administrators take a different approach with older students.

“As long as whatever they’re wearing fits the dress code, we don’t care,” he said. “It’s not like we’re having a costume party at the high school level.”

He said high school students can wear costumes as long as they don’t cover their faces with masks or makeup, wear hats or break the dress code in any other way.

“We have kids that on a regular day will wear a cape to school because they’re a [live action role player] outside of school; that’s part of what they do,” McDavid said. “So, we feel like we can’t tell them that because today is Halloween, no capes, but every other day you can wear a cape.”

Tyler Elementary Principal Andria Mitchell said one reason she and her staff agreed the policy should change is the pressure some families feel to buy costumes.

“Last year we had one of the highest, if not the highest, free and reduced lunch population, and several of our students’ families struggled to make ends meet,” she said.

Kindergarten teacher Cate Cardella said pajama day eliminates competition among students and takes some stress away from parents.

“There were tears every year,” Cardella said. “For some parents this is super easy, and for other parents it’s not. There were always kids who didn’t show up in a costume.”

An online petition to bring holiday parties back to District 428 schools has more than 300 signatures, and debate has sparked from both sides on a District 428 community Facebook page.

“It’s not about what I like or what I want or what feels comfortable to me or the adults in the building,” Mitchell said. “It’s about the babies, and they looked pretty happy today.”

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