When the parents of children at a Massachusetts elementary school received a certain letter from the principal, some were shocked at the message that it contained. Halloween was canceled – but not everyone thought the reason behind the bold decision was justified.
Yes, children at a school in Needham, Massachusetts, had a bit of a surprise in 2017, and for many of them it wasn’t the good kind of surprise. What happened at Needham Mitchell Elementary School was quite controversial, in fact, and indeed it caused something of a social media storm.
Over the years, many kids at Needham Mitchell Elementary School have enjoyed celebrating Halloween each autumn. Each class would usually hold a party, and all the children would come into school showing off their best Halloween outfits.
Yet while most of the pupils at the Needham school have loved the occasion, there are some parents who’ve disagreed with it. And that’s why Needham Mitchell Elementary decided to go about things a little differently in 2017. It’s a decision that has divided people for various reasons, however.
The issue was that some of the families of pupils at the school did not agree with celebrating Halloween, and as a result, they chose not to become involved in the festivities. So, when the big day came, the parents would hold their kids back from school while the other children celebrated.
In 2017 some of the teachers at the school therefore felt a little awkward about spending time planning the Halloween celebrations when they knew that some of the kids wouldn’t even be there to enjoy them. And because of that, the school’s principal, Gregory Bayse, decided to act.
Bayse felt that it would be appropriate to write a letter to all of the parents of his elementary pupils, and it was in this letter that he subsequently dropped a bombshell. Yes, the principal wrote something that proved to be controversial – and even upsetting for some of the recipients.
The letter stated that Halloween would no longer be celebrated at Needham Mitchell Elementary School. Knowing, however, that some of the kids would be disappointed by the decision, Bayse reiterated how important he felt it was to make all children feel included at school.
“I would agree that this represents a change, but I believe that in the long-term any change towards including all children is a positive change that will benefit our students and our community,” the principal wrote in his letter.
Among the parents, reactions were mixed, however. That much became clear when a reporter for ABC-affiliated local TV station WCVB-TV 5 headed down to the school. She asked a handful of parents and grandparents what they thought of the cancellation of Halloween – and the responses were by no means the same.
One grandmother, Patsy Leibensperger, informed WCVB-TV 5 News that she had always loved Halloween when she was at school – so she was disappointed for the Needham Elementary kids. “It makes me a little bit sad,” she told the reporter.
Another pupil’s father, Jon Cohan, agreed with Leibensperger. “It’s fun! I can’t see why people want to preclude kids from having fun and enjoying something that’s more cultural,” he said. “There’s no real religious significance to anything about Halloween. It’s just a thing where kids get candy.”
But when the news was shared on Facebook, the principal’s decision attracted much harsher criticism. One link to the report received a multitude of comments, most of which expressed disdain for the controversial move.
One frustrated Facebook user wrote, “I don’t see what the big deal is. If Halloween offends you then don’t participate. Problem solved! Let kids be kids!” Another user who was angered by the decision, meanwhile, placed the blame on an oversensitive modern society.
“There is nothing wrong with Halloween events,” Janice Spooner commented. “We have an event every year, and those who don’t celebrate are offered an alternative activity. What’s wrong is everyone’s feelings getting hurt every time someone else sneezes.”
Yet it seems that the parents of Needham Elementary were slightly more forgiving than those online commenters. “Our kids will probably miss it a little bit, but I totally get the reason why they did. To exclude anyone is not a good thing,” one understanding mom told WCVB-TV 5 News.
Meanwhile, another pupil’s father made the point that the holiday doesn’t need to be celebrated during school hours. “I don’t feel it’s really related to overall learning,” he said. “It’s important for kids to have fun, but it is a choice, per family. We definitely like to celebrate with our kids.”
Even a pupil who does normally celebrate Halloween told the reporter that it would be okay not to wear a costume to school in 2017. And when asked where she would wear the fancy dress costume instead, the young girl replied, simply, “At home.”
So, opinions may be mixed, and yet the principal’s decision was nonetheless final. There were no Halloween celebrations at Needham Mitchell Elementary School in 2017. Still, that’s not to say that there wasn’t a celebration of a different kind the week after Halloween instead.
On November 9, 2017, the school held a unique celebration of its own. Called “William Mitchell Day,” it was an event at which pupils and teachers were encouraged to join together in a celebration of the heritage of the school itself as well as “all things autumn.” The job of a principal cannot be easy, so let’s hope the event was enjoyed by all: students, parents and faculty alike.
And it’s not just principals who have to make the tough calls. The vice principal can cause controversy as well, as Mireya Briceno discovered when her prom night ended in disaster. Nearly every teenager dreams of the moment they walk into prom, but Mireya’s vice principal did not give the reaction she was hoping for.
Music is playing, people are dancing and decorations transform the high school gym into a Hollywood gala or an underwater landscape. Perhaps, at that moment, the lights are low, but a disco ball is making the whole room sparkle. Then all eyes turn when the door opens to reveal a couple dressed to the nines.
Mireya Briceno’s prom should have played out that way, too, with her romanticized visions of a high school dance coming to life. Up until the time she arrived at the event, moreover, the night was going swimmingly. She had primped herself, giddily slipped into her dream dress and posed for photos with her date, Dereko Riley.
Still, the Michigan teen felt chilly on that April evening, so she slipped on Riley’s jacket before walking into the dance and made her entrance with it on. But when she took the jacket off, she revealed her entire outfit – and that’s when her troubles began.
Mireya’s high school vice principal subsequently happened to catch a glimpse of the teen in her floor-length gown. The polka-dotted mermaid dress had a classic, retro vibe – certainly not a look that would raise red flags for violating a dress code by itself. However, as soon as the vice principal asked Mireya to turn around to see her outfit in its entirety, he sent her straight home.
Mireya Briceno was 18 years old at the time of her prom, which took place in April 2015. She attended Muskegon High School in Muskegon, Michigan, and has since moved on to Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. At the time of the school dance, then, she was in her final year of high school. In other words, it was her last chance to go to prom with her classmates at Muskegon.
Furthermore, she and her mother, Connie, had pored over the high school’s list of dress code requirements before the prom. The school explicitly forbade students from attending in gowns that exposed their midriffs. In fact, even dresses with sheer fabric over that area of the body would be forbidden, according to Muskegon High School rules.
However, according to her mother, Mireya’s outfit passed all of these criteria. The pair had examined the $300 dress in the mirror before Mireya left for the dance, and it completely covered the teen’s midriff with her arms at her sides. It also grazed the floor, so there wasn’t any question as to whether it was long enough, and the fabric itself wasn’t see-through, either.
Nonetheless, Mireya’s classic dress had one feature that ended up catching her vice principal’s eye: an open back. And that ought to have been okay, as the very same memo forbidding bare midriffs assured students that they could wear open-backed gowns. Still, within an hour of walking into prom, Mireya was sent home.
“They asked her to stand up and turn around, so she turned around and they simply told her, ‘You’re in violation. You need to go home,’” Connie told Fox 17 West Michigan in April 2015. And Mireya didn’t put up a fight. Her mother added that although she wanted to protest, she also didn’t want to start crying in front of her classmates.
And according to the Daily Mail, Mireya later commented in a Facebook post, “I wouldn’t be as upset if they were fair with the rules, but they weren’t. I saw plenty of people with the same style dress as me that stayed. I went through being embarrassed and my night was ruined.”
Connie did admit to Fox 17 that a sliver of her daughter’s midriff could be considered visible in the open-back dress if the teen, for some reason, lifted her arms over her head. However, she also repeated her daughter’s assertion that many other girls wore similar gowns, or even gowns that were clearly in violation of the dress code – and none of them were sent home.
Muskegon High School’s principal, Brad Perkins, declined to comment on the decision after the prom. A reporter from Fox 17 even tried to show him images of other girls who attended the school event without incident. “What would be the purpose of looking in the past?” he said.
And remember how Mireya walked into prom with her boyfriend’s coat on? Well, Perkins claimed that the teen did so in order to hide an outfit that she knew was in violation of her school’s dress code. In fact, he claimed that she’d admitted to doing just that after she was confronted by school staff.
In contrast, Connie Briceno said that her daughter just needed an extra layer of warmth in the chilly Michigan air. As soon as she walked in, the coat came off, since she felt she had nothing to hide. “[She] even posed for a picture with the cheerleading coach in that dress,” Connie pointed out. Mireya added on Facebook, “I never agreed to ‘breaking’ the dress code. That was definitely a lie.”
Regardless, the principal said that he stood behind the high school’s dress code, which had been in place for several years before Mireya’s fateful prom night. In addition, he claimed that he’d received lots of positive feedback for his decision. Mireya had a huge amount of support on her side, though: from the community, her classmates and, of course, her own mother.
Erin Zaragoza, for one, took photos of Mireya and her date before they left for the dance. And the photographer had only nice things to say about the teen’s look. Zaragoza told The Huffington Post, “I never take photos of anything I think is inappropriate or too revealing. And when I [saw] her dress, I thought it was beautiful and classy. She has such a great fashion sense and did not deserve to be kicked out of prom.”
Mireya’s date also took to Twitter to draw attention to what he felt was her unfair ejection from the dance. He shared multiple photos of the pair on his account with the hashtag #StandWithMireya, seemingly in an attempt to show that her dress was not breaking the school’s dress code.
Of course, Mireya’s mom stood up for her daughter as soon as she heard the news that night. According to a May 2015 Huffington Post article, she also hoped that the school would subsequently provide her daughter with “an apology and an explanation.” “There’s only so much you can do, but it’s her senior prom,” Connie added to Fox 17. “She’ll never get that night back.”
Unfortunately, Mireya didn’t receive the apology that her mother hoped she would. Nevertheless, her principal did go on to admit that the night had been a learning experience for the entire school. He also expressed regret that Mireya had left the dance without speaking to him. According to The Huffington Post, he felt that they could have come up with a solution that allowed her to stay at the prom.
The whole episode has at least provoked a constructive conversation, though. Indeed, Principal Jenkins said that the school would review its dress code in the upcoming academic year. And though her own high school prom ended abruptly, Mireya did still have the chance to attend her boyfriend’s prom a month later – albeit in a different dress that night.