Parents’ Revolt: Backlash May Save ‘Colonial Day’ in Arlington Elementary Schools, For Now

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ARLINGTON — School administrators in a town that played an important role in Paul Revere’s midnight ride are responding to backlash from parents after they elected to eliminate a tradition in which third grade students dress up in colonial garb as part of a day dedicated to learning about life during colonial times.

The motives behind the push to ban colonial costumes apparently stemmed from fears that students from other ethnic backgrounds may feel excluded, according to an email Superintendent of Schools Kathleen Bodie sent to parents last week.

The intent of the original decision was to create a more inclusive experience for all students in response to concerns expressed by families and community members who believe that because of their family’s history or cultural heritage, the historical narrative of Colonial Day has not been reflective of what their ancestors may have experienced,” Bodie wrote.

According to an informational packet supplied by Hardy Elementary School, “Colonial Day is a one-day event held each year at Hardy School for 3rd graders to experience life in Colonial times.”

“In the past, children have dressed up as colonists or Native Americans. Girls have worn long skirts, loose blouses, aprons, scarves, and bonnets or straw hats,” the flier notes. “Boys have worn long pants tucked into light socks, large loose shirts or vests, tri-cornered hats, and belts crisscrossed across the chest for soldier gear.”

Activities, according to the flier, include “butter churning, tin punching, candle-making, colonial games and dances, one-room schoolhouse, and gardening.”

Bodie claimed in her email that “while there were many families who welcomed” the ban on colonial clothing, “there were other families who felt that the change so close to the event did not seem reasonable given the time and resources parents had already put into planning their child’s costume.”

Backlash from parents prompted Bodie and other administrators to announce that students “now have the option” of wearing a colonial costume.

“Students are also welcome to dress in a manner that represents their culture and heritage,” Bodie added in her April 24 letter.

An earlier letter, sent to parents of third grade students on April 20, delved into greater detail regarding the motive behind dumping the costume tradition. The letter, sent to parents during school vacation week, explained that “the modification of not having students dress up for Colonial Day is related to Arlington Public Schools’ commitment to creating an inclusive community.”

“Ultimately we want everyone to feel like part of the ‘we’ and not the ‘they’ in our community,” the April 20 letter added, describing the cancellation of the costume tradition as being one of “small steps like this which open up a greater dialogue about our wonderful, diverse community.”

The latest information compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau show Arlington’s racial makeup to be 87 percent white and 12 percent Asian.

According to Bodie, administrators plan to “convene a committee of parents, teachers and administrators” next fall in order to “examine Colonial Day as an event — how it fits into the social studies curriculum and how it can be meaningful, relevant and inclusive for all students.”

“We hope to use this experience to create a wider dialogue about issues of diversity and multiculturalism in our schools,” Bodie added.

Colonial Day is slated for Wednesday, May 17.