Parents, described as "irrational," yanked as many as 400 students out of three rural east Texas schools amid rumors of a satanic kidnapping and sacrifice, the superintendent said Saturday.

Between 40 percent and 50 percent of students in the 930-pupil Hemphill Independent School District missed classes Friday, many being pulled out of classes by their parents, said school Superintendent Douglas Ray Butler.Parents arrived at the schools Friday demanding to have their children taken out of classes when they heard rumors that a student and a teacher would be kidnapped and sacrificed in a cult ritual.

Hemphill is a rural town of 2,000 residents located about 100 miles north of Beaumont near the Louisiana border.

The rumors apparently began Wednesday with a phone call to one parent from her mother-in-law warning of the kidnapping. The word spread around the school, officials said.