A Chicago-area high school pulled a senior student from class on Thursday after he showed up to school wearing a Jesus costume for Halloween. Shortly after, the school then reversed its decision and allowed the teen to return to class wearing the costume.
Angenetta Frison, mother of Marshon Sanders, a senior at Highland Park High School in Chicago's northern suburbs, said in a statement to a local news outlet that her son was asked to remove his Jesus costume after two teachers at his high school reportedly complained that the costume was offensive. The costume consisted of a long white robe, red sash, head scarf and large cross around his neck.
"I encouraged him to dress as someone inspiring or uplifting," Frison told the local Lake County News-Sun of her son's costume, adding that when she asked the school's dean what was so offensive about the costume, she didn't receive a direct answer. "When I asked her what she meant by offensive, she couldn't tell me," Frison said. "He's walking around dressed like Jesus, a religious icon. What's offensive about that?"
The mother went on to tell ABC 7 News that other students at the school reportedly dressed as Mormons, priests, and even the biblical character Moses, and were not ordered to change out of their costume like her son was. His costume last year was an outfit meant to resemble the rap artist formerly known as Snoop Dogg, and that costume was reportedly acceptable to teachers.
Melinda Vajdic, a school spokeswoman, told the local ABC 7 News that the teen's costume could be interpreted as violating one of the Halloween dress code requirements sent to students prior to the Thursday holiday. One of the rules states that no costume shall "be offensive or perpetuate a stereotype of someone's culture, gender, sexual orientation, heritage or religion."
Vajdic said the teen's costume could be interpreted by some as perpetuating a "religious stereotype." "Costumes trivialize," Vajdic said. "I'm sure that wasn't his intent, but we want to maintain a culture of mutual respect," she added.
The school then said in a follow-up statement to ABC 7 that it had reconsidered the Jesus costume, and ultimately allowed the teen to return to class wearing his original outfit. "We initially were concerned that the costume could be offensive to religious sensibilities. Upon further review, we realized the student did not intend to be offensive. Therefore, the school communicated to the student that he could wear the costume," the statement said.
This is not the first time religious-themed Halloween costumes have proven to be a delicate subject at schools. In 2008, Alex Woinski, an eighth-grader at West Brook Middle School in Paramus, New Jersey was sent home for dressing as Jesus to school. According to Fox News, the school's superintendent reportedly said at the time that the school did not allow any costumes that could possibly be distracting to faculty and students.