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Scholastic Book Fairs Will Separate Diverse Titles

U.S.Scholastic Book Fairs Will Separate Diverse Titles

Scholastic, the children’s book publisher, said that its elementary-school book fairs would now have a separate section for titles that deal with race, gender and sexuality — a response to dozens of state laws that restrict how those subjects are discussed in schools.

Those organizing book fairs can include — or exclude — that set of books, known as the “Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice” catalog. School fairs can also choose to include specific books from the list.

The separate catalog of 64 titles includes a children’s biography of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson; a fantasy novel about a Lakota girl; a graphic novel featuring the Black Panther superhero; and a book about different family types, such as adoptive families and families with same-sex parents, according to a list provided by Scholastic.

Some contain basic history, such as “I Am Ruby Bridges,” about school integration, and “Because of You, John Lewis,” about the civil rights leader’s role in the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.

“We don’t pretend this solution is perfect — but the other option would be to not offer these books at all — which is not something we’d consider,” the publisher said last week in a statement.

Alongside PEN America, the free speech organization, Scholastic has signed onto an open letter opposing state laws that effectively ban books in schools. But the publisher’s decision shows the difficulty of navigating this new legal environment, with its tough sanctions. In Florida, for example, educators could lose their jobs, and school districts can be sued and fined.

“These laws create an almost impossible dilemma: back away from these titles or risk making teachers, librarians and volunteers vulnerable to being fired, sued, or prosecuted,” the publisher said. “We cannot make a decision for our school partners around what risks they are willing to take.”

Some schools in all 50 states have chosen to go ahead and order book fair titles from the “Share Every Story” catalog, said Anne Sparkman, a Scholastic spokeswoman.

The general list for the fairs also features books with “diverse representation,” she added, such as “Eyes That Speak to the Stars,” about an Asian boy learning to love the shape of his eyes, and “Frizzy,” about a Dominican girl embracing her curly hair.

Scholastic is not the only educational publisher to get caught in this web. Last year, the publication of a prominent elementary-school reading curriculum was delayed amid debate over whether the content should be revised to avoid violating state laws.

The College Board has edited its A.P. African American Studies course multiple times, first under pressure from the administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida to remove certain themes, and then again after Black studies scholars protested those revisions.

Progressive educators often oppose removing content from curriculums on topics like structural racism or transgender identities, seeing it as acceding to censorship.

And the independent journalist Judd Legum has argued that Florida’s restrictive curriculum laws do not apply to the fairs. Students use their own money to purchase books to take home.

But school districts across the state have tended to interpret the laws, which are vaguely written, broadly.

Cailey Myers, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education, said state law held school districts responsible for “all content made available to Florida students.”

But she disputed that some of the books on the new Scholastic list, such as the John Lewis biography, would violate Florida law, pointing out that the state’s own English standards suggest “Freedom Walkers,” another book about civil rights marches.

“This is a political stunt by a corporation prioritizing activism over the well-being of children,” she said.

Ms. Sparkman of Scholastic said the publisher had been forced to create such a broad list of separated titles because across the country, there is a wide range of new state laws and district-level policies.

In any case, the laws are creating more work for schools. In Florida, some schools, including in Broward, St. Lucie, Miami-Dade, Sumter, Lake and Brevard Counties, are requiring parents to fill out permission slips allowing children to attend book fairs.

And a few have taken the additional step of giving parents access to a long list of titles offered at Scholastic fairs, including some in the separate “Share Every Story” catalog.

There are more than 120,000 Scholastic book fairs annually, according to the publisher. It launched the fairs in 1981, and shares profits from the sales with schools, generating $200 million in contributions, according to the company.


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