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FLOWERS: Lower Merion Scrooges Cancel Kids’ Halloween Wonder

I have a small Halloween Tree on my desk that my mother made over 20 years ago.  I pull it out every October 1, mostly because it reminds me of Lucy, but also because it’s a festive note in an otherwise dour professional office. Tiny goblins, witches, ghosts, and ghouls hang from its branches, and it’s been a useful distraction for little kids who are bored out of their October gourds sitting on their parent’s laps as we discuss immigration options.

Halloween is, after all, about the kids. It’s true that adults have hijacked the holiday with their sexy zombie costumes and their spiked beverages (bobbing for apples can lead to serious bobbing and weaving as parties progress,) the 31st of October will always be a time for childhood wonder.

At least, that’s how I grew up. Today, sadly, there are adults who want to ruin that wonder, and some of them live right here in Lower Merion. The school district recently announced it was canceling the Halloween parade this year, out of concern for those who “don’t celebrate.” They also mentioned that they were worried about the safety of kids. But that’s an old trope that’s been around since I was 5 over a half-century ago and we were told not to bite into that Hershey Bar without first checking for razors.

No, the real reason that Lower Merion has decided to destroy the happiness of countless elementary school children is that they want to promote “inclusivity.” According to an email sent to parents, they were worried about offending students who don’t participate in Halloween because of the dreaded “religious reasons.”

I’m trying to figure out what those might be. There are some Christian sects that seem to believe dressing up as ghosts and witches and begging for candy is akin to some satanic ritual, but they are few and far between. Frankly, there are a lot of things that are much more satanic than cute little kids trotting around politely asking for treats. Politicians canvassing for votes come to mind. So do those Fetterman signs on Delco lawns. But I digress.

Amy Buckman, who used to be with Channel 6 and is now the director of Lower Merion’s school and community relations, insists that there’s nothing nefarious about the move and that the district is truly concerned with the safety of the kids, noting that “just the thought of having an entire school population of young children in a field surrounded by adults that we couldn’t possibly screen was worrisome.” I’m wondering why, after decades, this is the year that they decided to squeeze the last drop of joy out of a treasured holiday, decades after the first missing child appeared on a milk carton. What makes today that much more dangerous for a little tot than yesterday?

The question answers itself. Adults have become overly cautious, overly triggered, and overly concerned with control. They monitor every move of their tots as if they were General Eisenhower and the kids were about to storm the beaches of Normandy. And they want to impose that iron-fisted control on other people’s children as well.

Add in the additional, rather suspicious concern about religious freedom and you know that this is all of a piece to train our kids to be afraid, timid, and apprehensive of offending others in this pristine society of pure tolerance. I find it rather laughable that we have a school district worrying about the religious concerns of some parents even while school districts across the country are punishing people for not using the correct pronouns, even when this violates someone else’s religious beliefs.

Eliminating this holiday parade is much scarier, in my opinion, than anything a child might encounter on a dark and chilly October evening.

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Neighbors Come Together in Opposition to Lower Merion School District’s Planned Athletics Complex

Opponents of the Lower Merion School District’s plan to locate new athletics fields in the heart of their neighborhood voiced their concerns and called on the school district and township to find a suitable alternative location. They say it would result in increased pollution, safety problems, traffic congestion, and the destruction of nearly 500 historic trees and 13 acres of critical woodland habitat in a generations-old canopy shared with Stoneleigh.

The neighborhood gathering that would have preceded Lower Merion Zoning Hearing Board’s scheduled Oct. 14 meeting, however it was but the zoning hearing was postponed and a new date has not yet been set. Multiple appeals were filed by residents who oppose the district’s plans for the new athletic field.

To date, 2,179 people have signed a petition calling on township officials and the school district to work together to explore other options and avoid the parcel’s complete deforestation, including clearcutting the vast areas of mature trees.

When neighbors and other supporters of the public gardens at Stoneleigh in 2018 successfully blocked the Lower Merion School District from seizing its land and taking part of the property for its then-proposed new middle school’s playing fields, the district looked at other sites. Eventually, it settled on land (1800 W. Montgomery Avenue and 1835 County Line Road), which include a forest and wildlife habitat. There are nearly 500 historic trees on the site near Stoneridge, Clairemont, and adjoining streets in the Rosemont-Villanova section of the township, the opponents contend.

Lower Merion School District residents sounded off on the ongoing issue and how it would impact their community.

“The issue with this proposal by LMSD is multi-faceted and unfortunately severely impacts the community it supposedly serves,” said Andrew Abramson, a Lower Merion resident. “The biggest impact to those of us who live in the immediate neighborhood is safety. But unfortunately, safety is being thrown out the window, and for those of us who have followed the process we just don’t understand why.”

“First, there is the safety of the children in an unsecured field. LMSD touts how safe the new school will be with high walls, security lights, cameras, and more,” Abramson continued. “It feels like they are pushing an agenda that in no way serves our community when there are a lot of better options.”

Another resident agreed.

“The LMSD was well aware of the limitations of that purchase and the challenges of making that property viable, with only one field and a few tennis courts, fitting into the unusual configuration,” Ann Gelfond said. “Their seizing of the County Line property for fields has many issues as well.”

“Both the school and proposed fields will impact the entire neighborhood, as well as our neighbors across Montgomery Avenue, with additional cars as both locations have minimal parking,” Gelfond said.

“The Lower Merion Board of School Directors and Administration strongly believe that every child in our district deserves the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities that will enhance their social/emotional growth and connection to their school community,” said Amy Buckman, a spokeswoman for the district. “For many of our students, participation in athletics supports these goals.

“That is why in December 2018, the district paid more than $12.9 million for the contiguous properties at 1800 W. Montgomery Avenue and 1835 County Line Road, which had both been offered for sale by their owners,” she said. “Since then, the district has invested significant capital in designing the project and going through the land development process, including a successful appeal of the township’s conditions of approval. The additional fields also support the township’s comprehensive plan, which noted the need for more playing fields in the community.

“Prior to finalizing the field location, the district looked at numerous other sites that ended up not working out,” Buckman added. “These included properties on Spring Mill Road, which contained protected wetlands; the area of Stoneleigh that’s currently being used for composting, the acquisition of which was blocked; Ashbridge Park, the acquisition of which was also blocked; and other sites that were deemed unsuitable for a variety of reasons, including topography, amount of acreage and distance from the school.

“While LMSD understands that some neighbors are concerned about having athletic fields for children near their homes, we believe that providing ample opportunities for children from our community to practice, play, compete and learn serves a greater good,” she said.