As the school year begins, calls for book bans begin to gather pace in Ohio


The following article was originally published on and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets because it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.

With the culture war surrounding critical race theory in full force in Ohio, schools are getting more and more calls to ban literature.

The new school year is about to begin, and already the battle for the books that students will read has begun. The banning of books is not a new problem.

“Parts like that can mess people’s heads up and they’re not worth it,” Chuck Bartsche said of a line in “The Bluest Eye,” a novel by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison. “The payoff for this is so low.”

Bartsche presents himself as a conservative organizer. He had an unsuccessful bid to join the Rocky River City Schools Board of Education in 2021, operating on the platform of banning both CRT and mask warrants.

Despite his campaign loss, he is still eager to remove what he believes to be the CRT from Rocky River.

Right now he is focused on stopping or limiting the teaching of “The Bluest Eye”.

“I do not know what [the book is] supposed to tell us,” Bartsche said. “I mean, there’s nothing positive.”

The book, set in Morrison’s hometown of Lorain, Ohio, centers on a young black girl and the racism, colorism and sexual abuse she faces. The book is taught in an AP English course and is widely known as an American classic.

In a Facebook community group, Bartsche tried to rally residents to complain to the school district.

“Before the Rocky River School Board allowed the school administration to use taxpayer dollars to include in the curriculum a book (The Bluest Eye) that has sexual content, including rape, molestation, ‘incest and pedophilia, they should have read the book themselves’ his message read.

The comments exploded quickly, but not in favor of Bartsche. Over 90 comments were on the post at one point – but moderators later disabled comments.

“Let’s not educate our children about the atrocities of humanity,” one user wrote. “Is there a book about rainbows and lollipops they can read instead?”

Another user specifically targeted Bartsche for his constant posting in the group.

“You really should find another hobby Chuck or join a cult or something,” the individual said.

One of the comments disagreeing with the curator was from Katterli Coloutes.

“Thanks, Chuck Bartsche, because your incessant copying and pasting convinced me to buy this book!” she says.

Coloutes has two young children in the school district and strongly disagrees with Bartsche.

“I think it’s an important thing to have books like this, so kids at that age are exposed to those difficult situations and difficult conversations that they may not have had yet. “, she told News 5.

For Bartsche, the sexual assault scenes are too graphic, and he said the amount of talk about race was uncomfortable.

“Just by the title, you know, it falls under this CRT category of trying to make a class of people, by their skin color, victims and others as oppressors,” he said. . “It’s important to realize how much anyone can progress in this country.”

Ignoring our history is not how education works, Coloutes said.

“That’s the whole point of education,” she said. “Show them what happened in our country, how we failed, and show them what we can do about it.”

Children will be exposed to difficult subjects with or without books like The Bluest Eye, Coloutes said. Plus, it’s not like 10-year-olds are going to read the book, she said — the book is aimed at 17-year-olds in a classroom that can be used for college credit.

“These kids are playing Call of Duty and watching R-rated movies and doing everything else unsupervised,” the mum added. “Is this book really going to hurt them by just giving them a taste of someone else’s struggle and what it might be like to be in someone else’s shoes? another and face difficult problems?”

Something that was frequently brought up by other parents News 5 spoke to was that the Bible includes all the quoted topics that Bartsche felt were not appropriate. Bartsche said it was not comparable.

“It’s just a red herring,” he said. “They’re wrong about this thing because they’d go crazy about it – that if they had them report a chapter of the Bible.”

But taxpayers’ money shouldn’t be spent blaming someone for the color of their skin, he said, referring to white children.

“I don’t see how a book would guilt white kids,” Coloutes said. “And honestly, if it was, maybe it would allow them to do more.”

The “white guilt” argument is the same one Republican lawmakers are making at the Statehouse.

House Bill 616 declares that no school district, community school, STEM school, non-public school that enrolls students who participate in a state scholarship program, or any employee or other third party representing a school district or school, may teach ” divisive or inherently racist concepts. “This includes all of Critical Race Theory, Intersectional Theory, The 1619 Project, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion learning outcomes, and “inherited racial guilt.” The next section of the bill deals with sexuality and gender identity.

RELATED: Lawmakers Hear Ohio’s Version of Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill

This bill came after News 5 carried an exclusive report on comments made by one of the main sponsors of the original “divisive concepts” bill – HB 327. The report stemmed from an exchange of talks between State Rep. Sarah Fowler Arthur (R-Ashtabula) and News 5 reporter Morgan Trau in early March.

RELATED: Rep.’s Holocaust Comments Sponsoring ‘Divisive Concepts’ Bill Raises Concerns

During the interview, Fowler Arthur was asked about the financial aspect of the bill. While trying to talk about funding, she brought up the Holocaust, saying students needed to hear the massacre from the perspective of “German soldiers.”

After News 5’s exclusive article on the comments of the sponsor of House Bill 327 on the Holocaust went international, the original divisive concepts bill was renamed the “two sides bill” or the “two sides of the Holocaust bill”.

Lawmakers say this is to provide “transparency to parents” and to “protect against indoctrination”.

Bartsche also thinks indoctrination is what makes Republicans progressive in college, he said.

“Young people come out of college and think differently,” added the curator. “So this book and others as such are all part of this education system – it’s not just about being exposed to things, it’s more about changing young people, young minds.”

The reason people change their beliefs from the ones they grew up with isn’t due to indoctrination — but rather education and the ability to form one’s own opinion, Coloutes explained.

Bartsche doesn’t believe in “low expectation bigotry,” he said, noting that he’s not saying people shouldn’t be likeable, but he’s also had his own struggles, despite not being not black.

“I’m 5ft 6in, you know how much trouble I have in my life for being 5ft 6in?” He asked. “I mean, it’s been a lot of hassle.”

Being below average height for a man is not the same as systemic oppression and institutionalized racism, say progressive activists.

Rocky River’s Conservative advocates are not alone in this battle. Large state organizations will attend many board meetings of different school districts.

“What parents in the school district really want and focus on are very different things than what we see coming from outside,” said activist Katie Paris.

Paris is the founder of Red and blue winean advocacy group that encourages suburban women and mothers to stay informed about local, state, and national politics.

She started a campaign called Book Ban Busters, where she and other parents across the country are fighting against these bans. She said that through her team’s research, they learned that groups statewide and nationwide were helping to grow the anti-CRT movement.

“Over the past year, across the country, unfortunately, in about 48 states, we’ve seen these attempts to ban the books,” she said. “Always across the board, they’re targeting books by black authors, LGBTQ authors.”

The largest groups in Ohio are the Center for Christian Virtue (CCV), Ohio Value Voters, and Protect Ohio Children. Everyone works together to fight against material they deem inappropriate.

These groups are also influential in policy-making at the Statehouse. The CCV is working closely with Republican lawmakers to pass bills that would deny transgender youth gender-affirming health care, ban discussions about sexuality, gender, and race in school, and prevent teaching the prevention of child sexual abuse.

From a quick scroll on the Protect Ohio Children Facebook page, conservative activists traveled to dozens of school board meetings across the state. And that’s true for Rocky River.

“For someone who doesn’t even have their kids in school…it’s kind of like – better spend their time somewhere else?” said Coloutes.

Neither Bartsche nor his children went to Rocky River, but he said he stood up for people who were too scared to speak out.

“People who believe in my path shut up and don’t talk because they see what’s happening to me,” he said.

Rocky River City Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Shoaf told News 5 it was not a problem and they would not be removing the award-winning author’s book.

“It’s an AP class and we have a policy in our district that if a parent doesn’t want their child to read a book, we’ll give them other learning materials,” Shoaf said. “That’s how we handle it.”

Despite heated school board meetings, Rocky River held firm and did not remove a single book from its curriculum, he added.

Bartsche will continue to fight, even if the current alternative gives parents the choice to prevent their child from reading the book – which they wanted.

“Jefferson said, you know, ‘A man’s courage is [sic] a majority,” Bartsche said, misattributing the quote.

(It was Andrew Jackson).

Follow WEWS Statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.

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