Publisher Scholastic has almost become synonymous with book fairs at schools throughout the country.
Now, though, the company is facing controversy after some people accused it of creating a “bigotry button” that gives school districts the power to exclude some books from their fairs that talk about diversity issues, including those with themes surrounding race and the LGBTQ community.
Some users on social media have noticed recently that the publisher created a separate book category for their events called “Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice.” Books in that section include titles about John Lewis, an icon of the civil rights movement, as well as Ketanji Brown, the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court.
But, Scholastic has allowed schools to make the decision not to carry those titles at book fairs.
Last Friday, Scholastic defended its new collection through an official statement. The company said that it allows individual school districts to opt out of carrying the collection because of legislation that is pending in 30 different states, which would prohibit “certain kinds of books” in schools.
The books they are referring to focus on racism, LGTBQ issues and other diversity issues. By grouping books in the way that the company is, Scholastic said it is protecting volunteers, librarians and teachers from having to face potential legal issues.
Scholastic further said that by putting all of these books in one group that can be left out of the fair, the people who run the fair can avoid potentially being fired if they give people access to the books that might be in violation of their state’s laws.
In the statement, a Scholastic spokeswoman said:
“We cannot make a decision for our school partners around what risks they are willing to take, based on the state and local laws that apply to their district, so these topics and this collection have been part of many planning calls that happen in advance of shipping a fair.
“We are invited guests in schools, and we took that into account when making this decision.”
Scholastic plays an integral part in the whole controversy, as they are the largest distributor and publisher of children’s books in the world.
Not everyone is happy with the decision that Scholastic made, despite the fact that local laws could ban some of these books if they are passed.
The free literature and speech organization, PEN America, said this week that it “shares the dismay we are hearing from authors” regarding Scholastic’s decision.
PEN America also acknowledged that there are many challenges that librarians, publishers and some other groups are facing recently in regard to the state laws that are targeting certain books. At the same time, the group said Scholastic’s decision “risks depriving students and families of books that speak to them.”
In a statement, PEN America said:
“Despite the challenges of this climate, we call on Scholastic to explore other solutions so they can reject any role in accommodating these nefarious laws and local pressures, or being an accessory to government censorship.”