(FOX News) - Frosty the Snowman is there and so is Santa Claus. But the Baby Jesus is stuffed inside a closet at Cottondale Elementary School, leaving many residents of the small town in the Florida Panhandle outraged.
The Nativity scene had been a part of the school's holiday lawn decorations for years. But this year, the yuletide display is strictly secular.
Principal Brenda Jones told television station WJHG the decision to keep Baby Jesus in the closet came after an official with the Department of Education dropped by to discuss the separation of church and state.
"The Dept. of Education came in and talked to us about the legalities of religion in the school systems and the separation of the two," Jones told the television station.
In an attempt to be fair to everyone, the principal said, "We decided that we would just not put the Nativity scene out on campus."
The decision has sparked controversy among the 869 residents who live in the Gulf Coast community.
Officials with the Jackson County School Board did not return calls seeking comment. But former board member Betty Duffee told the Jackson County Floridan that she believes the principal had no choice.
"There are people in the community that are threatening to sue the school board (over separation of church and state issues), and it costs a tremendous amount of money to defend something you know you will lose," she said.
"It's not that we're against it; it's just that the federal law prohibits it," she said.
Duffee told the newspaper that the decision not to display the Nativity is a "tragic thing."
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