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Board of education refuses to ban The Witches

By David Hudson
First Amendment Center research attorney
06.16.98

The Dublin, Ohio, board of education refused to ban Roald Dahl's book The Witches from elementary school libraries and classrooms last week.

A group of parents had complained to school board officials earlier this year that the book — which tells the story of a young boy and his grandmother fighting off a band of witches — harms the self-esteem of impressionable youngsters.

The parent who led the charge to ban the book, Kay Koepnick, requested it be removed from her son's fourth-grade class at Riverside Elementary School. She told The Columbus Dispatch: "I believe some of the excerpts [from] the book are harmful to the self-esteem of children. I find this type of material extremely objectionable and cannot understand why any educator, librarian or parent would knowingly choose this type of reading material for their students or children."

The school superintendent proposed a compromise measure: keep the book in the libraries but remove it from classroom use. However, the board voted 5-0 to maintain the book in the libraries and voted 3-2 to also keep the book in the classroom.

Koepnick told the paper she was "not angry, but disappointed" by the board's decision.

Kathy Lowery, associate superintendent of the school board, said, "The board of education definitely saw this as a victory against censorship."

Bert Wiser, president of the school board, added, "This is a victory for the First Amendment. One parent's views shouldn't be able to censor material that other parents' children read."

Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, applauded the vote. "The board members' action in this case is really refreshing. I am always glad to hear of a success story. I find it troubling that people would want to ban such an interesting, phantasmagoric book," she said.

Bertin says the book is a "favorite" among censors, often for allegedly promoting the occult and the wicca religion. However, she describes the book as a "classic."

"The Witches has been used successfully in many schools. Children simply like to read Dahl's books," she said.


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