Parental supervision required: Little Miami Schools changes book fairs after queer series sparks controversy

MAINEVILLE, Ohio — A graphic novel series about a relationship between two European boys is causing the Little Miami School Board to rethink the way it facilitates its book fair.

In August the district received several complaints from concerned parents regarding the selling of a series called “Heartstopper” at a recent Little Miami Middle School Schoolastic Book Fair.

One of those parents sent a letter to the board requesting a pause on future book fairs and the implementation of a book review committee, the district said.

Heartstopper is a series of comic book-style novels that tells the story of 15-year-old Charlie and 16-year-old Nick. Essentially, the boys meet at school, become friends and then boyfriends. The series focuses on how the teens navigate their new relationship together as they come out to their friends, family and eventually the rest of the school.

According to publisher Hachette Children’s Group,Heartstopper is about love, friendship, loyalty and mental illness. Since publication in 2019, author Alice Oseman has sold more than 1 million copies across the globe. In 2022, the series was adapted into a hit Netflix show staring Kitt Connor and Joe Locke.

Following the complaints, the school board decided to pause all future book fairs. However, last week the district released an update giving the fairs the green light, but with limitations. They will now be after hours, so parents can shop for books with their children.

The move was met with support and opposition at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

“This was never about segregation,” said parent Silas Shelton, as he addressed the school board members during the public comments section of the meeting.

He was the first to voice concern in August and addressed the board again Tuesday, applauding its book fair decision.

“Don’t be looking at this stuff that is going to confuse you as a kid and quite honestly can mess you up for the rest of your life,” Shelton said. “You look at the language content, you look at the sexual innuendos — that stuff doesn’t belong in our schools.”

But not every parent echoes Shelton’s praise.

“The compromise regarding Schoolastic book fairs was an attempt to pacify parents like me enough to stay home tonight and it didn’t work,” ​Vanessa Srikantham, a parent of a second grader at the district, said.

Srikantham said she doesn’t believe parents like Shelton who claim their issue lies with the sexual content and occasional foul language in the novels. She believes it’s because the novels are LGBTQ.

“This was never about control. This was about censorship and bigotry,’ she said. “If Heartstopper had been about a boy falling in love with a girl, no one would have said a word about this book. This is a fantastic book. Heartstopper discusses healthy relationship dynamics, platonic and romantic, having difficult conversations with peers and employee figures, bullying and how to stand up for yourself and others, mental health struggles and recovery supportive role models and love.”

She said the board’s decision to change the way the book fairs operate is “wrong,” especially because only two of the board members actually read the book.

“You have to be supportive and inclusive of all Little Miami students. Not just the straight ones,” she said.

Brad Underwood, a spokesperson for the district, said the school board never pulled Heartstopper from the fair, despite the complaints.

In a statement, the district said it is however looking into the books to evaluate some of the complaints:

As always, when we have a parent concern about a book, we have a system in place to review it. That process is underway. The book in question was part of a middle school Scholastic Book Fair that took place from Aug. 14-24. In collaboration with Little Miami PTOs, it was determined that we will hold our book fairs during evening hours while we proceed with our review. This will enable parents and children to continue to enjoy shopping at our book fairs together.

“When did it become acceptable for that organization to now encourage sexual exploration to middle school students?,” Board member Mary Elmer said after the district’s board meeting Tuesday evening. “I will not condone or endorse any vendor or organization that presents this type of material to students in our district facilities… I am thankful to the parents who brought this to our attention.”

Despite the board’s criticism of the Scholastic Book Fair, the district has another book fair scheduled with the company next month, according to its website.

Will Heartstopper be available to purchase? Underwood said he doesn’t know right now.

Schoolastic selects the books it sends to each book fair, he said, and as of now, LMSD hasn’t received a list of inventory for the next one.

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