Clowns this Halloween are no laughing matter.

Megaretailer Target on Monday morning said it would stop selling clown masks, as a growing number of school districts ban the disguises from their Halloween parties and scattered police departments advise against clown costumes for wearers' personal safety.

"Given the current climate, we have made the decision to remove a variety of clown masks from our assortment, both in stores and online," Target spokesman Joshua Thomas said in a statement. He did not elaborate.

On the Minneapolis-based retailer's website Monday afternoon, no clown masks were available, though full clown costumes with signature red-bulb noses remained for sale.

Goodwill stores in Florida took clown costumes off their shelves for similar reasons, according to

Several schools in recent weeks have asked parents to reconsider their children's costume options.

The Tredyffrin/Easttown School District in Chester County sent a notice home with students last week.

"In light of recent events throughout the nation, costumes of a clownlike figure will not be permitted for our Halloween/Dress up day activities," said the Tredyffrin letter. "We thank parents for their assistance in ensuring our students enjoy the activities."

In New Jersey, the Montclair School District issued a sternly worded warning on Oct. 6, banning clown costumes "due to the possible disruption and fear it may cause."

"If anyone shows up with a clown-related costume, they will be asked to change or sent home," wrote interim Superintendent Ron Bolandi. Schools in West Milford in Passaic County, N.J., banned the costumes earlier Monday, according to

Last week, McDonald's Corp. announced it would scale back appearances of its spokesclown, Ronald McDonald, until the clown panic subsides.

A rash of "creepy clown" sightings has prompted panic in several communities across the country. In Pottsville, Pa., police were investigating an incident where two suspicious clowns — one dressed in orange, the other in black — were seen yelling at children in late September. The clowns fled in a silver pickup truck, police said.

The clown scare began in South Carolina in late August when rumors spread that creepy clowns were trying to lure children with cash. Sightings of other menacing clowns followed in North Carolina, New York, Florida, and Wisconsin. No one has been injured.

"I don't know if taking clown masks off the shelves is the solution," said Howie Beige, co-owner of Rubie's Costume Co. in New York City. "Clown masks for decades have been a staple and a fun part of Halloween.

"And I don't know how all of a sudden this creepy clown thing caught on," Beige said. "I just wish it would stop."