Buckeye Valley Superintendent Paul Craft sent an open letter this week to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio responding to its demands related to an author visit held in April that caught national attention.
On April 7, children’s book author Jason Tharp, of Fredericktown, Ohio, spoke at Buckeye Valley West Elementary School. Following his visit, Tharp posted on his Facebook page that he was not allowed to discuss his book “It’s Okay to be a Unicorn” during the visit. According to emails, Buckeye Valley Board of Education Vice President Donald Dicke and board member Tom Ailabouni both contacted then-Interim Superintendent Dr. Jeremy Froehlich before the visit and recommended that Tharp’s presentation be cancelled for, in their opinion, pushing LGBTQ themes.
“Why would we welcome an author who is pushing LGBTQ ideas on our most vulnerable students? Again I would recommend that we cancel,” Dicke wrote in an email on April 6.
Tharp has described the book as not being about any LGBTQ themes, and he said the book is about showing kids how to manage feeling different, understanding their emotions, and the importance of self-kindness.
The ACLU of Ohio wrote to the district last month on Tharp’s behalf and urged that BV take the following courses of action:
1. Reverse any bans or restrictions on Tharp’s book and replace any copies that were removed from the school library;
2. Adopt and enforce a policy preventing discrimination on the basis of viewpoint in library book acquisition and retention, where the book contains no age-inappropriate content;
3. Adopt and enforce a similar policy with regard to guest speakers.
Craft, who formally became superintendent on Aug. 1, responded to the letter on Aug. 12 and said he immediately began gathering information about the incident when he became superintendent.
Craft responded to the requests from the ACLU. He stated the book was not banned within the district and added it had been borrowed from the Delaware County library system for the visit and was returned to their collection. He said three of Tharp’s other books are available in the district’s library and that “as many as 400” copies of Tharp’s books were sold to students, staff, and families during Tharp’s visit.
Craft responded to the second and third requests together. Craft said the district follows policy templates from the Ohio School Board Association that apply to library books and guest speakers, and he added the district will continue to add new books to the library and bring in speakers to expand students’ experiences.
“Making judgments about content is something that we trust that our educational professionals can and should do in the course of their duties,” Craft wrote. “… the BVLS administration commits to ensuring that our library collections and guest speakers will be selected with a view toward expanding the worldview, education and experiences of our students in ways that prepare them for success in an increasingly interconnected world and in alignment with out district mission and the district Portrait of a Graduate developed by a broad range of our district stakeholders.”
Craft concluded the letter by acknowledging that the visit “could have and should have been handled in a more deliberate and collaborative way” and said his fourth grade student attended one of Tharp’s presentations and “enjoyed his presentation and message.”
“In my new role as the Superintendent … please rest assured that my team, the board of education, and I will work hard to ensure that all students, families and staff, and any visitors invited into our schools, feel welcome, safe and respected going forward,” Craft said.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.