Undated (AP) _ Pumpkin festivals are sprouting in some school districts, where parents are trying to keep Halloween out of the hallways and off school grounds because of its connection with witches and Satan.

In Alachua County, Fla., Robert Guyer gathered the signatures of about 200 fellow parents who think the holiday is a religious celebration of Wicca, a modern pagan witchcraft cult.

When teachers dress up like witches, ''what happens to these little Christian kids like mine?'' asked Guyer, a University of Florida law student. ''How are they going to feel when it's dress-up day and they don't dress up?''

Officials in Alachua County left the decision on Halloween to school principals.

In neighboring Levy County, the superintendent asked schools to avoid using Halloween decorations and to cancel school celebrations.

Halloween, which is being celebrated Tuesday night, apparently sprang from an ancient ceremony honoring the Celtic god of death. In medieval England, it came to be known as All Hallows' Eve, celebrated before the feast day of All Hallows, now All Saints' Day. As is the case with the pagan Christmas tree, few pay attention to its religious origins.

But Guyer cites a recent 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in Atlanta that found that prayers before high school football games violate the constitutional separation of church and state.

''As Easter has been banned in favor of spring holiday, as Christmas has been banned in favor of winter holiday, so, too, Halloween should be banned in favor of fall holiday,'' he said.

The Rev. Bill Ligon of Brunswick, Ga., agreed: ''Some of the symbolism used for Halloween is used also by recognized religions. I think the law as interpreted by the 11th Circuit should be impartially applied to any religious activity at school.''

Halloween's defenders say it has become a non-religious holiday.

''The witches and goblins of Halloween are no more believable than Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy. ... Are they going to ban those, too?''asked Charley Mack, a father of six in Tallahassee, Fla., where several schools are inaugurating ''harvest festivals'' in place of Halloween.

In Texas, Harlingen Superintendent T. Carl McMillan responded to parents' anxieties by asking principals to tone down celebrations.

''I asked them to review their practices and if they had anything that depicted blood and gore to try to eliminate that,'' McMillan said.

An elementary school in Amarillo planned to celebrate Pumpkin Fun Day rather than Halloween.

And in Frederick County, Md., three elementary schools have discontinued Halloween events. At least one decided to hold a fall celebration instead.

''I personally have trouble defending ghosts and goblins in our instructional curriculum,'' said John Thompson, a county school official.

Parents are upset by lurid descriptions of devil worship on television and in rock music, said Fred Eisenbraun of the Rapid City Cops for Christ, in South Dakota.

Eisenbraun was in Worthington, Minn., last week to conduct an Occult Awareness Seminar for teachers, parents and teen-agers.

''Satanists do not isolate themselves to New York, to Denver or to Dallas,'' Eisenbraun said. ''They like rural areas, like Worthington, Minnesota, or Rapid City, South Dakota, where there's an availability of abandoned buildings, animals, and wide-open areas where there aren't enough cops to check on them.''

The popularity of slasher movies and costumes that imitate them worry other parents.

Movies like ''Halloween'' and ''Friday the 13th,'' are popular enough to make their protagonists among the hottest-selling costumes this year, outfitters say - along with Batman and Jim and Tammy Bakker.

But Freddy Krueger, the ogre of Elm Street, isn't invited to the Halloween party at the Bethesda Elementary School in Waukesha, Wis. Students there were forbidden from dressing as characters in any of the graphically violent movies, said Principal Nancy Marsho.

''We don't appreciate Freddy here at Bethesda,'' Ms. Marsho said.