Little Miami schools scaling back book fair over ‘Heartstopper’
MAINEVILLE, Ohio (WXIX/ENQUIRER) - A Warren County school district says it will scale back an annual book fair after receiving complaints about selling a book series that centers around a boy who is gay, according to our media partners at the Cincinnati Enquirer.
The books at the heart of the controversy are the “Heartstopper” series by Alice Oseman - that have been turned into a Netflix show - and were available for sale during a Scholastic Book Fair for 10 days in August.
Little Miami School District instituted a “pause” on book fairs, saying it wanted to impanel a special committee to screen books sold at district fairs, after parent Silas Shelton told the board on Aug. 22 that the book wrongfully encouraged children to “explore their sexuality.”
“I tell you, I got sick reading that stuff,” said Shelton, who lamented that parents “aren’t allowed to talk about the health risks of kids being gay.”
After that complaint, school board candidate David Wallace wrote a letter on Aug. 28 to the Little Miami school board members asking them to stop all Scholastic Book Fairs in the district until a committee could evaluate all the titles to be made available, FOX19 NOW reported in early September.
“As always, when we have a parent concern about a book, we have a system in place to review it,” the district said in a statement. In response, a petition against halting the book fairs appeared on Change.org, garnering more than 680 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.
On Friday, the district announced it would scale back, in a compromise: Instead of allowing students to peruse books during the school day, as has been past practice, the fair will only be open during two nights of parent-teacher conferences to ensure that children have parental supervision while choosing what books to buy.
Brad Underwood, the district spokesman, acknowledged late Tuesday afternoon that curtailing the book fair could result in fewer book sales, thus raising less money for the schools. He said he didn’t know how much, if any, of a loss the district could suffer.
While book bans in various school districts have made headlines this year, the Little Miami situation is different because the book in question isn’t one being assigned as reading material or stocked regularly in the school’s library. Rather, the “Heartstopper” series is for sale as part of a book fair designed to raise money and educational resources for participating schools.
Common Sense Media, an organization providing age-based media reviews, describes “Heartstopper” as a high school romance between two boys that grows from a classroom friendship. A few drawings in the graphic novel depict kissing from the shoulders up, a few instances of strong language, and some “mild romantic gestures like holding hands and hugging,” according to the website synopsis.
Netflix adapted the graphic novel into a TV series that so far has two acclaimed seasons.
The school board is scheduled to meet on Tuesday night at the district’s central office, 95 E. U.S.-22 and 3 in Maineville. It’ll be the first meeting since announcing the compromise on its website Friday. Parents are likely to show up to speak on both sides of the book fair.
“I’ve just been flabbergasted at this entire situation,” said Vanessa Srikantham, 39, the mother of a second grader. “Censorship and book banning: If you want to get me riled up and cranky, that’s the best place you can possibly start.”
Srikantham said she made a point to read the book once fellow parents flagged it as potentially inappropriate. She said she found the work “amazing.”
“There’s healthy relationship dynamics in this book between peers and authority figures,” Srikantham said. “There’s bullying and how to stand up to bullies and how to help others stand up to bullies. There are stories in this book about positive role models and, yes, there’s also a boy falling in love with a boy.”
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