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Potter vote no surprise

ATLANTA - A Loganville mother who has waged a one-woman fight against the Harry Potter books hasn't decided whether to appeal a ruling Thursday allowing the popular children's series to remain in school libraries.

"I think I need some time to think about it," Laura Mallory said after the state Board of Education rejected her attempt to have the books banned from Gwinnett County schools. "There's a lot of planning involved."

Thursday's vote was anticlimactic. With no discussion, board members ruled that the Gwinnett Board of Education was within the scope of its authority in deciding not to remove the books.

Mallory's case was the first of 48 items on a "consent agenda" board members had set on Wednesday. As is typical, the board approved all of the items with a single vote.

Mallory, whose children attend J.C. Magill Elementary School, asked the Gwinnett school board last April to remove the Harry Potter series from the schools' media centers and classrooms.

She said they promote the Wicca religion, a state-sponsored advocacy that violates the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment, and contain material on witchcraft and demonic activity that is inappropriate for children.

School district officials countered that the books have increased interest in reading among students and contain wholesome themes, including the triumph of good over evil and the power of a mother's love.

They said banning works of fiction with references to witchcraft would force schools to empty their shelves of such classics as "The Wizard of Oz," "Alice in Wonderland" and the popular "Lord of the Rings" and "Chronicles of Narnia" series.

A state hearing officer who listened to arguments in the case in October sided with a local hearing officer's assessment of Mallory's case as weak because she didn't present evidence to support her claims.

"Although there was testimony that claimed the books ... instilled a fear response in children, there was no evidence to establish that the books caused the response," according to the state officer's written opinion, which was released Wednesday.

"These were only 'cause-and-effect assumptions' that failed to establish that the behavior would not have occurred but for the Harry Potter books."

But Mallory faulted the procedures used for the local and state hearings for handcuffing her ability to make a winning case.

"I was not allowed to call witnesses or present any expert testimony," she said. "It's hard to be able to present a case when you can't present it."

Mallory said she presumably would face fewer procedural restrictions if she decides to appeal the state board's decision to Gwinnett Superior Court, where different rules apply.

But even if she doesn't appeal, she said the publicity surrounding the case should help alert educators, parents and members of the clergy around the nation about the dangers of the Harry Potter books.

"It's the most challenged series in the country," she said. "There's a reason for that."