"Parents not wild about Harry Potter"
by James L. Smith ("The Flint Journal," January 4, 2002)
Lapeer - A group of residents wants a hex put on the school district's proposal to include Harry Potter books as part of an eighth-grade English class.
Some residents believe the Potter books teach the occult and are not appropriate for children.
Laura Erpelding told Lapeer school board members Thursday that approval of the books as a reading text could turn children toward witchcraft, palmistry and wizardry as found in the Harry Potter volumes.
The proposal to include the books among several textbooks for underachieving eighth-grade readers was introduced at Thursday's school board meeting.
Erpelding told board members they would be supporting wiccan and satanic cults if they endorsed the books for reading.
Mary Ann Lessner, a member of Family Action Concerning Today's Society, a Lapeer-area group of about 30, encouraged board members and school administrators to further investigate Harry Potter before a decision is made on the books Feb. 7.
"Harry Potter is all about bad and evil," Lessner said. "He is deceitful. He uses lying and cheating and the ends justify the means. It's not like the witch stories when we were young."
Although none was in attendance at Thursday's meeting, Lessner said area Christian pastors would overwhelmingly disapprove of the Potter books.
She blamed low attendance at the meeting on the late notice she received of the proposed textbook adoption.
"Schools throughout the nation have banned Harry Potter because he teaches Satanism, witchcraft and humanism all rolled up in fun for Harry Potter," Lessner said. "This has nothing to do with fundamental English, and we don't need it in the classroom."
Debbie Thompson, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said teachers recommended the book because it was aimed at students with a low reading level in the eighth grade.
"The teachers feel the books are well-written and meet a significant need," Thompson told board members. Students, even those who normally don't like reading, find the books interesting.
"Playboy would be interesting to eighth-grade boys, but you wouldn't advocate that," Erpelding said. "Why can't they read biographies of the founding fathers?"
As in all supplemental reading selections, parents and students could opt for alternative readings if they objected to the material, Thompson said.
Students, even those who would object to the books, would not be comfortable in rejecting the books because of peer pressure, Erpelding said.
Board President Arthur Sieting said from his reading of the books they were more of a fantasy than a religion, but he asked Superintendent Ron Caniff to get an opinion on whether the district would be endorsing a particular religion by approving the books.
Thompson said teachers would talk with students about the fantasy aspect of the books during class discussions. The district was not purchasing the teacher's guide for the Potter series.
Caniff offered to meet with Lessner, Erpelding and other residents concerned about the books between now and the next board meeting.
The superintendent said his research on the controversy found the Christian community was split on whether Harry Potter was harmful and dangerous, or fanciful and fun.
Lessner and Erpelding said they would mobilize more parents and residents before the February meeting.