By MADDY VITALE
A PTA book sale at the end of October in the Intermediate School angered parents who took their feelings to the Ocean City Board of Education meeting Thursday, saying that some of the content available to students was sexually explicit.
School officials said that when it was brought to their attention that some of the books were age-inappropriate, they handled it and would do everything in their power to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. They also noted that it was a Parent Teacher Association event and that the PTA selects the books to sell.
Kevin Schaffer, an Ocean City father of three, addressed the school board while waving an illustration from a graphic novel that displayed two males kissing.
“I’m here to talk about a book, it’s a graphic novel, a story told through illustrations. In this case it’s pornography. It’s pedophilia,” he said. “I’m pretty sure when a fourth-grader looks at a man kissing a boy, it’s probably not a good thing.”
Schaffer, who was part of the “Conservative Family Values” slate of candidates that lost in the Nov. 7 school board election, said that the book, titled “Heartstopper,” should not have been available to a fourth-grader.
“This is straight Penthouse. This is Hustler. It is absolutely appalling,” he said. “This is not about gay. It is a man and a boy, and it has nothing to do with gay. It’s not anti-gay. It is inappropriate.”
Like Schaffer, Christina Ardelean, an Ocean City mother, said she was upset about the content sold at the book fair.
She said when she saw a copy of the graphic novel, one of which her friend’s child purchased, she “couldn’t believe it.”
“When I looked into it, there’s profanity,” Ardelean said. “This was made available for fourth-graders to buy at the school book fair. I don’t want to over-sexualize my child. I don’t want this sexual content pushed on fourth, fifth, sixth graders. It’s not age-appropriate.”
Interim Schools Superintendent Dr. Scott McCartney blamed an outside vendor that supplied books to the book fair for the inappropriate content.
“As superintendent, I am certainly aware of the book fair. Scholastic is an outside company, and we pay them to have some books in place and make sure they are age-appropriate,” McCartney said of the vendor.
But in this case, he said, the material was inappropriate.
“What I do know is we told Scholastic that it is not appropriate,” McCartney said. “I do appreciate the feedback and we hear it and respond, and I made steps for the future. I don’t disagree and we made corrections.”
PTA President Katie Grimm declined comment Thursday night, saying that since she was not in attendance for the school board meeting, she would not feel comfortable commenting until she has seen the video of the meeting of what was said.
School Board President Chris Halliday noted that when the school board received communication from the public expressing concerns over the content of some of the books sold at the sale, they were referred to McCartney.
“He spoke to the administration and the principal. We do not contact anyone directly. We saw your emails and the superintendent acted upon them,” Halliday noted. “In regards to the book fair, it is a PTA event. The only thing the school board does is approve the facility use.”
School board members Liz Nicoletti and Catherine Panico remarked about the matter.
“I brought this up to the PTA yesterday,” Nicoletti said. “I think it’s important that we all know what is going on.”
Panico said that if the PTA is responsible for allowing the inappropriate content to get into the book fair, then “someone should be held responsible for that.”