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Bubbling troubles trail Harry

Students in Zeeland, Michigan faced restrictions on the Harry Potter books, including a ban on reading them in the classroom  

Michigan town, a cauldron of Potter foes, readies for next book

July 6, 2000
Web posted at: 5:59 p.m. EDT (2159 GMT)

In this story:

Harry expelled from library

Exposure to violence?


ZEELAND, Michigan (CNN) -- When a teacher read some of the Harry Potter books aloud in a school classroom here, it ignited an uproar that divided this conservative Midwestern community.

As the world awaits the release of the next "Harry Potter" book, it remains to be seen just how it will resonate in Zeeland.

VideoCNN's Martin Savidge visits both sides of the 'Harry Potter' controversy in Zeeland, Michigan
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    The controversy started when a few children told their parents about the scary story from school involving witches, goblins and enchantment. That didn't go over well with some residents, who were troubled by the tales of violent, magical battles, of partially decapitated ghosts and the drinking of unicorn blood.

    "Kids are like sponges, and they will soak things up and sometimes store them for a while before they spit them back out," said Mary Elzinga, a parent who objects to the series written by J.K. Rowling.

    Harry expelled from library

    Responding to parents' complaints, Gary Feenstra, the superintendent of Zeeland schools, ordered all Harry Potter books off library shelves last fall in elementary and middle schools.

    He also banned reading of the books in classrooms, required students to get notes from their parents before checking them out, and halted the purchase of future books in the series.

    The move dumbfounded Potter supporters.

    "I didn't think it was appropriate for one person to be able to decide what reading material should be available," said parent Nancy Zennie, a Harry Potter enthusiast.

    The resulting debate set neighbor against neighbor and teachers against the administration. Children joined in the fray.

    "I just thought, if you don't want to read 'em, don't read 'em," student Joe Dana said.

    Parents who backed the superintendent saw the school conflict as a real-life demonstration of one of the facets of the books they found most troubling: questioning authority.

    "We've taught our children to honor the authority figures in their life, and this book doesn't necessarily encourage or present characters that are easy to honor or respect," Elzinga said.

    Exposure to violence?

    They also suggested the books -- which topped the American Library Association's list of most-challenged books last year -- could lead to violence akin to what happened last year at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.

    "As we expose our kids to the occult, we expose our kids to blood, to violence, and desensitize them to that," said the Rev. Lori Jo Schepers. "What I can expect is those kids, as they mature, have a very good chance of becoming another Dylan Klebold and those guys in Columbine."

    Rev. Lori Jo Schepers
    The Rev. Lori Jo Schepers believes elements of Harry Potter books may desensitize children to violence  

    Proponents were astonished that someone would limit access to a book they said had finally gotten children excited about reading.

    "To take that tool away -- a magical one if you will -- just seemed criminal to me," Zeeland schoolteacher Mary Dana said.

    In the end, a 14-member panel of parents and teachers recommended that the district reverse almost all of Feenstra's orders, leaving in place only the ban on reading the books aloud in the classroom. It also said decisions about purchasing future Harry Potter books should be left to librarians.

    Now, said Schepers, she hopes the controversy will settle down. But with a new book on the way, it may be too soon to lay that issue to rest.

    "Time will tell," she said.

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    March 29, 2000
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    October 20, 1999
    Readers clamor for new Harry Potter book
    September 8, 1999

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