Arkansas parents come together after a spirit day leaves some students feeling excluded

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HEBER SPRINGS, Ark.—Two parents at Heber Springs Elementary are working to make sure their children don’t feel alone for a school ‘spirit day.’

Homecoming week for the Heber Springs School District started October 12, 2020 and ends Friday. Every day the district has ‘spirit days’ where students K-12 can participate. Thursday is called ‘Squad Day’ where students are supposed to dress up as a group with their friends. Some parents say this is exclusive and is hurtful to students across the district who feel lonely at school.

“I fought back tears the entire way to school as she cried in the backseat,” said Kristin Searle, a parent at Heber Springs Elementary.

Searle’s daughter is in the fourth grade at Heber Springs Elementary School. She says this spirit day happens year after year despite concern from parents.

“It’s difficult. Every year it’s difficult,” recalled Searle. “It’s so difficult to see your child feel alone and feel like they don’t have a friend.”

Searle teared up in a Facebook live video on Wednesday as she explained the situation. She says she has since received support from other parents whose children are feeling the same way about the spirit day.

“We can do this together and we can show people that you don’t have to have squads,” said Jessica Hodges, another mother at Heber Springs Elem.

Hodges says she related to Searle’s Facebook video after her daughter was excluded by her classmates from participating in the event. She instead suggested the two girls dress up together, wearing shirts that read ‘We stand together, not apart!’

“At the end of the day, everybody needs somebody and I’m glad we were there to help that somebody,” Hodges said.

Bahar Pruitt, Communications Coordinator for Heber Springs Schools sent the following statement:

“Homecoming events and dressing up for spirit week are wonderful traditions at our school and in many other school districts across the state and nation. This is a week for the entire student body, faculty, staff, and community to come together as PANTHERS. 

Today our district administration was made aware that some people had concerns about our Twin/Group dress up day. Next year, in an attempt to include more perspectives, we will provide a survey for recommendations for dress up days before they are selected. We apologize for any frustration felt, as this was certainly not our intent. Our intent is to provide a safe learning environment where everyone can thrive and feel valued. “

Both moms say they hope next years spirit days will be more inclusive.

“Just something to highlight everybody’s uniqueness rather than a squad day,” said Searle.

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