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Banned at the schoolhouse door: pint-size ghosts and goblins

Halloween gets a makeover at many schools, as religious parents object to the holiday.

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School principals from Newton, Mass., to Denver find themselves increasingly haunted at Halloween by this refrain: Get out, ye ghoulies!

Bowing to concerns of a wide range of groups - from Christians who consider Halloween to have pagan or satanic overtones to church-state separatists who object to the holiday's religious roots - some elementary schools are canceling their customary costume parades and Halloween celebrations.

In their place are "Fall-o-ween" events, which take note of harvest and seasonal change but that eliminate all things spooky - or controversial.

"There's been a steady growth of the number of people and the kinds of perspectives objecting to Halloween, and it's become a real issue for schools," says Charles Haynes at the First Amendment Center in Arlington, Va. "There's a lot of strangeness around this issue."

The downplaying of Halloween at school runs counter to the nationwide trend. The holiday is now a $3.3 billion business, as those who mark the season of goose bumps set the mood with decorations, costumes, candy, and party goods.

Though Halloween entered the schools "through a secular door," as Mr. Haynes puts it, its sometimes-dark imagery - and the gory movies and masks that go along with it - mean that some Christian and Muslim families keep their kids at home that day. Increasingly, those families, which can make up a full 30 percent of a school's student body, are calling in their objections - and schools are listening.

The challenge to Halloween in schools "really gets to the heart of minority rights and minority feelings in a pluralistic culture," says Jo Paoletti, an American studies professor at the University of Maryland in College Park.

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