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Howling About Halloween

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"Halloween," says Will Irby, "is definitely not my favorite holiday."

It's not that the Levy County, Fla., schools superintendent is naturally opposed to celebrating the feast day of ghouls and goblins. It's just that parents in his district who have complained that Halloween is a manifestation of witchcraft have sapped him of his festive spirit.

"We have constituents in the district with strong concerns about their rights being violated by the celebration of Halloween in our schools," Mr. Irby says.

Rather than face a legal challenge from the parents, who believe that witchcraft is a religion, Mr. Irby decided to ban observance of the holiday and its accompanying rituals in the schools. He sent a memorandum to teachers and school administrators late last month asking schools to "be very sensitive to these concerns and the possible legal ramifications."

Several years ago, district schools abandoned Halloween parties in favor of so-called "fall festivals," Mr. Irby says. But students and teachers continued to dress up as witches, ghosts, and ghouls, and Halloween traditions persisted.

So Mr. Irby also asked school employees not to display decorations or don Halloween costumes lest these rituals be viewed as paying homage to witchcraft, and result in charges that the schools are violating the constitutional guarantee of separation of church and state.

But angry Halloween loyalists have sent him bundles of mail seeking to edify him on the traditions and history of the holiday. "I could be a Halloween expert at this point," Mr. Irby laments.

Mr. Irby is not alone. School officials in Maryland and Texas have similarly found themselves haunted by the Halloween issue this year. Several schools in Frederick County, Md., have canceled Halloween parties, and the school board of Harlingen, Tex., has appointed a committee to study the issue after a parent complained that Halloween is a "satanic holy day."

But in the end, Mr. Irby concedes, the decision of how to observe--or not observe--Halloween at the school fall festivals is one for each community and individual family to make. It is simply "a matter of respecting individuals' civil rights," he says.

--jw

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