"Harry Potter expelled from school"
Teacher at West Ridge Elementary bans book after hearing complaint
by Holly Kurtz ("Denver Rocky Mountain News", November 6, 1999)
Cherie Ogden's son Carson came home from third grade Thursday and told his mother a story she could hardly believe.
His teacher at West Ridge Elementary had stopped reading the class Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, J.K. Rowling's magical tale of a young wizard in training.
She had decided to err on the side of caution after a parent at another Jefferson County public school raised questions in reference to sorcery in The New York Times best seller.
It's the latest episode in a controversy over three children's books that have cast a spell over millions of readers worldwide. School libraries can barely keep The Sorcerer's Stone, The Chamber of Secrets and The Prisoner of Azkaban in stock. Children read them on the playground at recess. A movie is in the works.
Yet parents from South Carolina to California worry Harry Potter, the main character, could be encouraging their children to do the right thing -- read -- for the wrong reasons.
"It contains some powerful and valuable lessons about love and courage and the ultimate victory of good over evil," said Paul Hetrick, spokesman for Focus on the Family, a national Christian group based in Colorado Springs. "However, the positive messages are packaged in a medium -- witchcraft -- that is directly denounced in scripture."
Christian groups say they've heard of no organized efforts to ban the books from public schools. But the Rocky Mountain Family Council ministry in Jefferson County fields about two calls a day from parents concerned about the books, said Mark Anderson, director of research and publications.
Douglas County School curriculum director Dottie Fielder says parents have been asking questions about the books. And in Jefferson County, a Stony Creek Elementary librarian posted an Internet message to her colleagues after a parent raised questions about the books.
Jefferson County library services coordinator Roberta Ponis mentioned the concerns at a Tuesday training session. West Ridge's librarian then shared this information with her school's teachers, according to district spokesman Rick Kaufman.
At least one teacher decided to stop using the book, much to Carson Ogden's displeasure.
"He thinks it's stupid," his mother said. "He can't understand it."
Anderson says he is not urging parents to get the books banned from schools.
"I'm basically urging parents to pick the right fight to die for," he said. "This isn't the right one. As far as books go, there's a lot worse ones than Harry Potter."
Jefferson County has received no formal challenge to the Harry Potter books.
School officials struck down the two other school library book challenges this year. A Vanderhoof Elementary parent considered R.L. Stine's The Boyfriend too racy. An Allendale Elementary parent considered a nonfiction book, Arms and Armour, too violent.
Ogden hopes Harry Potter will not be expelled from West Ridge Elementary.
"To me if people don't want kids reading these books, their kids shouldn't be in public school," she said. "They should be in private school -- Christian school."