IT’S DEBATABLE: Halloween Costumes in School? Ziebell’s Opinion - October 2016


Generally speaking, school districts have the ability to set policies within their district for administrators, teachers, and students. One area where school districts have chosen to impose policies which some might find troubling is in the area of Halloween costumes, where many school districts have either limited Halloween costumes or banned them altogether.

There are many reasons for these limitations or outright bans. One easy explanation given for these bans is that costumes are distracting and take away from the learning environment. This is understandable – it can certainly be distracting to be dressed in, say, a clown costume, and be trying to learn at the same time.

In addition to the distraction factor, social norms have changed over the years. In an interesting twist, while social norms outside of school have seemed to trend towards more acceptance of differences, within the school system, anything deemed offensive to others is somewhat taboo. So any costume which might be deemed offensive is either off-limits or, in some cases, no costumes are allowed at all.

Another factor in the expansion of social norms are the types of costumes worn by school children. Whereas once costumes were perhaps more trite and simple, costumes today run the gamut from being overtly sexual to downright terrifying. These issues only add to the distraction factor cited by school administrators who limit, or outright ban, Halloween costumes.

So do the limitations and bans put in place by school administrators make sense today? While outright bans seem a little harsh, school districts can, and should, impose limitations on the types of Halloween costumes worn by school children. Certainly, costumes are distracting and can, depending on the costume itself, be a detriment to the learning environment either for the student wearing the costume or the other students around a given costumed student. Perhaps even more telling, the changes in what is deemed socially acceptable today, as opposed to the past, suggest that the costumes of students have gone from simple costumes to ones that are more troubling in either their form or what they suggest. Lastly, changing social norms suggest that in a society that is far more sensitive to people’s feelings, certain costumes are bound to offend someone and school districts are extremely sensitive to that.

Halloween is supposed to be a fun time for kids but that does not necessarily extend into a learning environment where sensitivity and sensibilities have changed over time. If children wish to wear costumes that are not accepted in school, they are certainly free to change when they get home and go trick-or-treating. If you would like to contact me, I can be reached at (847) 705-7555 or If you would like another viewpoint, read my colleague Heidi Kuffel’s article in our IT’S DEBATABLE series.