Olentangy students, parents protest recent halting of Dr. Seuss reading on NPR podcast
Seventh grader Thomas Bornman read Dr. Seuss’ “The Sneetches” to roughly a dozen students and parents Monday in front of Olentangy Local School’s administrative building — more than a week after a podcast aired where a communications official stopped a teacher from finishing the book in class.
“It’s important to send the school district a message that it’s OK for students to ask questions and talk about race,” said the 14-year-old Olentangy Hyatts Middle School student.
The read-in was part of a peaceful protest by a group of concerned parents that was organized Monday in response to Amanda Beeman, the assistant director of communications for Olentangy Schools, stopping a Shale Meadows third-grade teacher from finishing a reading of "The Sneetches" after a student commented, "It's almost like what happened back then, how people were treated ... Like, white people disrespected Black people."
The teacher, Mandy Robek, was reading "The Sneetches" to her class on Dec. 13 as part of NPR’s Jan. 6 episode of "Planet Money" on the economic lessons in children’s books. The book was one of six agreed upon by NPR and the district. NPR reporter Erika Beras spent the day in the classroom and politics was an off-limits topic, per stipulations by the district. Six books were selected ahead of time by Beras and the district, including "The Sneetches."
Olentangy Schools: Official 'made a personal judgment' to halt Dr. Seuss reading on NPR
“That didn’t need to happen,” Bornman said. “It was certainly a freakout.”
Parent Sarah Cook said she wants teachers to educate without censorship.
“We want children to be able to speak from their heart and make meaningful connections to what they are reading and learning and connect it to the world and make a change in the world," she said. "We don’t want those discussions to be squashed."
She is the parent of a daughter in first grade at Freedom Trail Elementary School in Olentangy Schools.
“I don’t want this to happen at her school,” Cook said. “I don’t want her to be in the middle of a discussion about discrimination or race and feel ashamed or guilty to having brought it up.”
What is Dr. Seuss' book 'The Sneetches' about?
"The Sneetches," published in 1961, is about two kinds of Sneetches: those with stars on their bellies and those without stars. The "Plain-Belly Sneetches" are judged negatively by their appearance, so capitalist Sylvester McMonkey McBean makes money selling them stars. Meanwhile, the "Star-Bellied Sneetches" don’t like associating with the Plain-Belly Sneetches, so they start paying to have a machine remove the stars.
Charlie Carter, a fifth-grader at JW Reason Elementary School in Hilliard City Schools, read "The Sneetches" to herself quietly Monday at the protest.
What happened? Olentangy Schools official cuts off reading of Dr. Seuss book during NPR podcast
“It’s important for the kids to talk about how the past isn’t all sunshine and rainbows,” the 10-year-old said. “It doesn’t make sense that you would shut down something that’s important that you need to know.”
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Parent Terri Fizer said she wants the assistant communications director to be fired.
“Communications is about how it’s received and this was received very poorly,” she said.
Fizer's is the parent of a first-grader at Olentangy Meadows Elementary School and a sixth- grader at Olentangy Orange Middle School.
Letters: It's chilling Olentangy schools stopped Dr. Seuss reading after race question
“I want (my kids) to think critically and realize that the past is not all rosy and beautiful and we need to discuss that in order to deal with it,” Fizer said. “So Olentangy sweeping it under the rug and defending this person does not sit well with me.”
Other parents have empathy for Beeman.
“There’s a large contingent of people that honestly feel for her in a way because she was representing the district at that moment,” Cook said. “I don’t think she was operating in isolation even though she was the only one physically there, I think she was representing the much larger group behind her.”
She said she doesn’t want the district’s administration to operate out of being afraid of upsetting parents or groups of people.
“We hope the communications department will have additional training on diversity, equity ad inclusion so they can understand how it relates to what they do for the district and how to do better," Cook said.
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Monday's protest was going on at the same time as the district’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service and people were dropping off donated items at the administrative building.
How did Olentangy Schools respond to the podcast?
Olentangy spokesperson Krista Davis said last week Beeman "was not speaking on behalf of the entire school district when she stopped the reading of the book during the podcast.”
“Ms. Beeman made a personal judgment call to halt the reading of the book because some of the themes and undertones that were unfolding were not shared with parents in advance as they had agreed to have their children recorded on a national radio program discussing economics and financial literacy. Otherwise, Ms. Beeman would not have intervened," Olentangy Schools Superintendent Mark Raiff said in a prepared statement last week.
When asked if Beeman received any disciplinary action, Davis said she is "unable to disclose employee discipline."
Regarding the protest on Monday, she said "we have already issued a comprehensive statement on this topic, and have nothing further to say on the matter."
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Olentangy parents protest school official stopping Dr. Seuss reading