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School Turns Halloween Parade Red, White and Boo

October 24, 1996

SMITHSBURG, Md. (AP) _ An elementary school has stirred up a cauldron of trouble by changing its Halloween _ oops, Fall Festival _ colors to red, white and blue.

Smithsburg Elementary School officials had hoped to promote voting and apparently avoid controversy over Halloween’s occult aspects by declaring a patriotic theme for next Tuesday’s costume parade through town.

Instead, the decision has angered parents and others in the rural village of 1,600.

``I feel like once again the minority is having their way against the majority, and I don’t understand why it is that way,″ said Barbara Labe, mother of a second-grader and triplets in kindergarten.

She said she had already spent $60 on costumes to dress her children as a bat, a ghost, a jack o’lantern and Sleeping Beauty. ``I was thinking maybe I would let them wear their costumes and carry an American flag,″ Labe said.

That would be OK, according to a follow-up letter from the school. But in the future, the letter said, the parade might not be held in the fall at all, ``depending on the theme selected by the faculty.″

The letter referred to ``religious connotations which have become associated with the season in recent years.″

Shifting the parade to another season would end a tradition of at least 20 years in Smithsburg, set amid dairy farms and apple orchards in the Appalachian foothills.

``My personal opinion is that I think the pendulum has swung too far on this,″ said Mayor Mildred ``Mickey″ Myers, who taught reading at the school for three decades. ``It’s something that’s been long-going, and it’s certainly far removed from worshiping Satan or anything. It’s kids’ fun.″

Principal Bill Fagar wouldn’t comment.

William Ford, assistant superintendent for instruction at the Washington County Board of Education, said Smithsburg chose the patriotic theme to reinforce election-awareness lessons being taught in the county’s schools this fall.

Ford said the school board, like others across the country, urges administrators to be sensitive to religious, cultural and philosophical differences and encourages them to consider alternatives to traditional Halloween activities. Most Washington County schools have replaced Halloween parties with ``fall festivals″ or ``harvest celebrations,″ he said.

Nationally, school Halloween controversies have cooled after peaking earlier in this decade, National School Boards Association spokesman Jay Butler said.

For some in Smithsburg, the annual Halloween parade represented the small-town values that drew or kept them there.

``I think it’s a shame,″ said Marge Gyurisin, president of the school’s Parent-Teacher Association. ``For kids, it’s always just been about dressing up in a costume and seeing how much candy you can get. And now someone has decided it’s something else.″