KITCHENER -- Students attending classes in the Waterloo Region District School Board are being asked not to dress up for Halloween this year.

"Costumes and shared food, customs often associated with Halloween, are incompatible with the guidance we have provided to our schools and received from Public Health," an update on the school board's website said in part.

The school board said the health and safety of students and staff are a top priority this year, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We have spent the past number of weeks establishing routines in schools and classrooms in an effort to keep everyone safe and through this vigilance, our students and staff have enjoyed a remarkable return to school," the school board. "Potential disruptions to these routines and safety practices are risks that our school communities cannot afford to take."

Families are also asked not to send their children to school with shared food items like the treats usually handed out on Halloween.

"It eliminates clutter so we can provide physical distancing where possible," said Alana Russell, chief communications officer with the WRDSB. "It eliminates the need to disinfect items that are coming from our students."

Dr. Abdu Sharkawy, an infectious disease specialist at UHN Toronto Western Hospital, said the move to cancel Halloween costumes at schools isn't necessary.

"What we are doing here is we're just essentially providing more of the no narrative, restricting people for reasons that are no clearly based on any science," he said.

The WRDSB said the guidance comes from public health officials and said they're not cancelling Halloween festivities.

"We're hopeful that at the school level, we can still offer that same celebration, that same spirit, just in a different way," Russell said. "Quite honestly, in a way that is more equitable for everyone."

Trick-or-treating is permitted in Waterloo Region this year, but people should only head out with their immediate household and wear non-medical masks, rather than costume masks. People handing out candy should do so using tongs.

The school board's notice also reminded people dressing up outside of school to ensure costumes are "respectful of other cultures and identities."

"Waterloo Region is a diverse community, and in the spirit of inclusion, it’s key to recognize that not all families celebrate Halloween," the statement said. "It’s a great opportunity for parents and caregivers to talk with their children about the importance of respecting those individuals who do not participate in these activities."

A spokesperson for the Waterloo Catholic District School Board said it doesn't have a system-wide policy on costumes, leaving it up to the schools to determine how to celebrate Halloween.

With reporting by CTV News Kitchener's Nicole Lampa