Social media mobs Tetonia Elementary School over Halloween decision

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TETONIA — What started out as a single Facebook post on the Tetonia PTO Facebook page about Tetonia Elementary School’s decision to suspend costumes on Halloween quickly avalanched into all out rage once the complaints reached the more public Facebook page called Just Sayin’ Teton Valley.

Tetonia Elementary School teaching and administration staff made the decision Monday Oct. 30 to refrain from having students wear costumes on Halloween. Tetonia Elementary School Principal Megan Christiansen said Thursday there were a few reasons for this decision.

With one of the four teachers at Tetonia Elementary School out sick this week and no available substitutes, the teaching staff first reached out to parents for help on Halloween. When they couldn’t find parental support, they made the decision to ask students to not dress for Halloween but would provide traditional Halloween celebrations in class as scheduled. This included treats and prizes that the teachers purchased themselves.

Christiansen said she fully supports her teachers and the decision was not made because teachers dislike Halloween.

“It was the best decision for our students,” Christiansen said. “Every single classroom had a celebration and did Halloween activities. Teachers purchased all of these things for the students, and did all the Halloween activities — it was just was without costumes.”

The kernel of consternation on social media was the suggestion that the decision was also made to accommodate students who don’t celebrate Halloween.

“I don’t want to get into politics and religion,” Christiansen said. “We have students who don’t attend school on certain holidays and this is a public school and every student has a right to feel safe at school. That wasn’t the biggest part of it. We didn’t have enough hands on deck.”

Christensen said only one parent complained.

She pointed out that prior to the actual holiday, the Tetonia PTO threw a huge Halloween carnival where teachers attended, dressed up, manned games, baked treats and spent their Friday evening to celebrate in costume with students.

Superintendent Monte Woolstenhulme backed Christiansen and her staff and said Thursday that he worked to address a few parental concerns and questions and was in close communication with Christiansen throughout the week.

“A few parents called with questions,” Woolstenhulme said. “I support Megan and the staff with the decisions that they make.”

Woolstenhulme offered a personal observation. The kind of conversation that happened on social media this week is the reason he’s not on Facebook. He said when he is made aware of concerns within the district, he follows up with staff to map out the best course of action.

In this case, Woolstenhulme and Christiansen worked to issue a parent letter to help further explain the decision that was made for Halloween. He said he did not track the Facebook conversation on this issue.

“There is still misinformation or exaggerations out there and I’m not tracking all the details on social media. Today I’m having a conversation on what is an appropriate response, but bottom-line, we support the teachers and the decisions that were made. You can communicate with us like an adult,” he added. “Have some courage and come in and have a face to face conversation. This back and forth garbage is not something I have time to get into.”

Christiansen and Woolstenhulme issued a response on District social media in addition to the parent letter that was sent out Wednesday.

It reads:

As some of you may be aware, there has been concern about Tetonia Elementary not allowing students to wear costumes on Halloween this week. I support the decision of the teachers, principal, and staff to make those decisions they feel are best for their school, given the many variables that go into that process.

We encourage parents and community members to contact the school directly when they have questions or concerns and would hope that communication is polite and civil, even when we disagree about issues.

That expectation of civil communication, is the responsibility of all adults, as we are setting the example for our students and children with how to treat others respectfully.

Here is a statement from the Tetonia Elementary Principal, Megan Christiansen:

November 3, 2017

Dear Students, Parents, Staff, and Community Members of Teton Valley:

In light of the Halloween costume conflict at Tetonia Elementary School, I would personally like to say that I support, respect and trust all of my teachers and staff at both Tetonia and Victor Elementary Schools. They have the right to make decisions with my full support based on what is best for all students.

Many factors came into play with our decision to not wear costumes at Tetonia Elementary on Halloween day. Staff shortage, illness, student participation, and parent involvement were considered before our teachers made the decision on Monday. We do not oppose Halloween at Tetonia. We had a Halloween carnival with full staff involvement, costumes, treats, games and more at our school. On Halloween day, we celebrated in the classrooms with activities and treats, while each class performed The Monster Mash in the gym during PE time.

At this point, we have moved on with our focus on continuing to educate, grow and learn with our students.

If you have any questions or concerns, please stop by to visit or give me a call. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.

Thank you,

Megan Christiansen
Principal of Victor and Tetonia Elementary Schools

This story originally appeared in the Teton Valley News. It is posted here with permission.

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