Problem with Potter reaches state

ATLANTA - The Harry Potter books about children who attend a school of wizardry encourage young people to practice witchcraft, a Gwinnett County mother of four told a state hearing officer Tuesday.

But a lawyer representing the Gwinnett Board of Education said the series of best-sellers should not be removed from the school system's libraries because the books foster a love of reading among students.

Laura Mallory of Loganville, whose children attend J.C. Magill Elementary School, is seeking to have the books by J.K. Rowling banned from school shelves.

She first brought her case before the Gwinnett board, which ruled unanimously in May that the books could stay.

Mallory then appealed to the state Board of Education. The officer who presided over Tuesday's hearing will make a recommendation to the board, which is expected to issue its decision in December.

Presenting her arguments first on Tuesday, Mallory cited studies showing that some children who have read Harry Potter books or seen movie adaptations have become interested in witchcraft to the point of attempting to cast spells. She said an organization called The Pagan Federation has attributed an increase in interest in the group among young people to publication of the books.

"Witchcraft is being mainstreamed to our children today,'' she said. "My children are the most precious thing in the world to me. I surely do not want them to be indoctrinated into a religion whose practices are evil.''

Mallory also referred to research by the American Academy of Pediatrics that found young children cannot readily distinguish fantasy from reality and try to imitate what they've read.

But Victoria Sweeny, the Gwinnett school board's lawyer, said the Potter books are clearly "fantasy fiction'' and are kept in the fiction section of school libraries.

She said the books, some of which run longer than 700 pages, provide reading material rich in vocabulary with such wholesome themes as the triumph of good over evil and the power of a mother's love.

Sweeny suggested that to ban Harry Potter from school media centers could lead to the removal of such classics as some of William Shakespeare's plays, "The Wizard of Oz,'' "Alice in Wonderland'' and the popular "Lord of the Rings'' and "Chronicles of Narnia'' series.

"When you start removing books and access to ideas, you'd pretty soon have no use for a media center,'' she said.

Since Tuesday's hearing was akin to a court procedure rather than a public hearing, attendance at the Georgia Board of Education meeting room in a state office building was sparse.

Hearing officer L.O. Buckland timed each side's arguments and interrupted Mallory and Sweeny only briefly to ask questions.