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Hearing to determine fate of 'Harry Potter' books in GCPS

LAWRENCEVILLE - The next challenge Harry Potter will face has nothing to do with horcruxes, Hogwart's or the half-blood prince. Instead, it will be a group of concerned parents looking to take the series off the shelves of all Gwinnett County Public Schools.

Laura Mallory of Loganville filed an appeal last week to get the best-selling book series out of the schools' media centers. She is an evangelical Christian who has three children at J.C. Magill Elementary School.

"I think the anti-Christian bias - it's just got to stop," Mallory said. "And if we don't say something, we'll just keep getting pushed out of the schools. And I pay taxes, too, and I think that gives me a voice to speak out about this."

On Thursday, she will present her appeal at a public hearing at 2 p.m. Many parents and other community members are expected to attend to support or oppose Harry Potter's place in Gwinnett schools. A hearing officer will listen to all of the testimony and submit recommendations to the Gwinnett Board of Education. The board will have to make its final decision within 15 days of the hearing.

Mallory wrote on her appeal forms that she was objecting to the books because of their "evil themes, witchcraft, demonic activity, murder, evil blood sacrifice, spells and teaching children all of this."

The mother of four said she was opposed to the messages of the books, which describe a young wizard's adventures in a school of magic. She said she had done much of her research online, reading a variety of Christian message boards and Harry Potter fan sites.

"Their thinking has changed. They're designed to think that witches and witchcraft and wizards and all this is just normal. And that it's OK. And that it's even good. I strongly disagree with that. I don't think it's OK, and I don't think it's good at all," Mallory said.

The appeal has brought international attention to Gwinnett County schools, as news of the possible banning of the book series circulated around the Internet this past week.

Book appeals have been fairly rare in the Gwinnett school system. The most recent challenges were in 1997, when complainants asked the Board of Education to remove "Ghost Camp" by R.L. Stein and "It's Not the End of the World" by Judy Blume, according to Sloan Roach, spokeswoman for Gwinnett County Public Schools.

In both cases, committees recommended the board take no action, allowing the books to stay on the shelves. The school board upheld those decisions.

"Since we will be ultimately making a decision, it probably is premature to say anything for or against the books until the information is brought before us," said Carole Boyce, the Board of Education's District I representative.

Many Gwinnett Harry Potter fans, including students and parents, were shocked when they heard about the possibility of the books being taken off school shelves.

Jessica Grimes, a 10-year-old student at Duncan Creek Elementary School, faxed a letter to the school system in support of the books series.

"The books never at any time turned me into a wizard or witch," Grimes said. "I go to church every Sunday, go to Sunday school and never at any time did I think the books are true."

Michelle Carter, the PTA president at Magill, also has three children at the school. She said she was undecided as to whether or not the series should be available in schools, but was confident about the final decision.

"I'm glad that parents in Gwinnett County schools are able to express their opinions and be heard, and I believe the Board of Education will hear all sides and make the correct decision," Carter said.

Dacula High School student Jana Davis, 16, said she will probably attend the public hearing with some fellow Harry Potter fans. She said she didn't see how the books were any worse than other children's books like Roald Dahl's "James and the Giant Peach" or Lemony Snicket's "A Series of Unfortunate Events" series.

"Maybe parents should be parents and read the book first," Davis said. "If they find it fun, exciting and adventurous, like thousands of people across the world, then they should allow their children to read it, in school or out."

Mallory said she has been contacted by other Christian parents who were concerned about the content of the books. On her complaint form, she suggested they be replaced by C.S. Lewis's "Chronicles of Narnia" series or Tim LaHaye's "Left Behind: the Kids" series.

She admitted that she has not read the book series partially because "they're really very long and I have four kids."

"I've put a lot of work into what I've studied and read. I think it would be hypocritical for me to read all the books, honestly. I don't agree with what's in them. I don't have to read an entire pornographic magazine to know it's obscene," Mallory said.