(Jacob Azevedo, Chris Epting and Cisco Haley at the Huntington Beach Central Library for Author’s Day, ’14)
Some background: for the last 16 years, I have taken part in the annual Author’s Day event put on by the Friends of the Children’s Library. In that time, I’ve spoken to literally thousands of students in the district, donated hundreds of books, created writing programs, and helped mentor young writers in addition to other efforts. I think it’s the single most rewarding thing I’ve had the privilege of being part of in this community.
Authors are chosen each fall in a lottery system. This past year, I learned that Circle View elementary, who had the first pick of authors, chose me. I was flattered. They chose me last year too and evidently felt good enough about the experience to invite me back. This has happened more than once. Some schools have invited me back three and four times, to enthusiastic reviews.
But then something mysterious happened. A week or two later I discovered that the principal of Circle View had written the event organizers a letter to say that they didn’t want me to speak anymore. They said that some teachers felt that because I had been there last year, that it wasn’t a good idea to have me back. This was strange. When they chose me, they knew I had been there last year. So why the change? In the back of my mind, I wondered if this was a continued part of the OVSD attack on me personally. But then I thought, there’s no way that even they would sink to such a level as this. Well, it seems I was wrong.
Last week, I received a private message from someone I don’t even know who works in the district. They were writing to say how disappointed they were that I would not be speaking at the school and how badly they felt that I had been “banned” by the district.
I was stunned. “Banned?” I reached out to the person and we had a conversation. I received details about a call from the superintendent’s office which, in no uncertain terms, stated that I was no longer allowed to speak at the school. As well, according to this person, the school was told that If I was to call, no one was to even talk to me.
This made me sick. Why would the OVSD superintendent get involved with Author’s Day?
Fortunately, the Hebrew Academy extended an invitation to me and we spent a wonderful day yesterday. But then, at the authors reception held at Central Library in the afternoon, I was approached by another person I have never met before. They introduced themselves, then also expressed dismay, disappointment and anger over the fact that I had been banned, evidently, throughout the OVSD system. “First, the OVSD tried to ban a book. And now they’ve banned an author,” they said. “You.” As to the excuse made about me speaking last year, this person said I was chosen specifically BECAUSE of how much they enjoyed my presentation last year, exposing what now appeared to be an outright lie. “Many of us are very upset about this,” they said. “We think it’s a disgrace. They are not being honest and they are punishing you for asking them questions they don’t like. This is all because of that.”
At the library, yet another source described a meeting last week where other educators who were aware of this banning expressed similar anger and disappointment at the fact that school officials could behave in such an irresponsible manner.
Understandably, everyone who spoke to me did so with an understanding that I would not reveal their identities. Because everyone that spoke to me expressed fear for their jobs for speaking their minds.
Of all the OVSD school officials have tried to do to me, I think this is the worst. This is my livelihood, my profession and most importantly, my passion. Speaking to young people about writing is something I truly value. For school officials to destroy that experience as as part of their vindictive and destructive campaign against me, in my opinion, is not just unethical, but an absolutely reckless dereliction of duty and abuse of power. Manipulating a celebrated local program to once again try to silence free expression? It is outrageous.
I am fairly confident that the school officials have created enough cover whereby they will be able to deny the calls that were made and support their excuses (or have some teachers lined up willing to back the excuse). They know the people won’t speak up. And it’s part of that fear and intimidation campaign that they seem to be hanging their collective reputations on.
Thank you to those that were brave enough to reach out to me to reveal this scheme. We’ve never spoken or met before, yet you felt strongly enough about this to let me know what is really going on. I truly appreciate that and encourage any other staffers to contact me in strict confidence to report this kind of (in my opinion) abusive, reprehensible behavior (email@example.com).
I think I see the strategy now: these school officials feel that by lying about me, saying things like Ms. Clayton-Tarvin (and her child!) was publicly “attacked” by me, that they can now punish me based on those made-up stories. Well, they’ve picked the wrong fight. They are not allowed to create an artificial reality for the sole purpose of punishing someone that dare tries to hold them accountable for their words and actions.
And their arrogance to think that they can get away with actions such as this, speaks volumes. This is out in the open now. Where it belongs.
And to all the librarians in the district, as always I will make myself available, on my own time and own dime, to help spread the word of writing to your students. Don’t be bullied by these (in my opinion) thugs. They are making a mockery of what it means to lead and set positive examples for children.
Together, we can make a difference. I promise you we can do this.
You really nailed it!!
As you said, they will certainly hide behind the veil of plausible deniability, but not only are you in the right – but you have several people willing to stand up (albeit anonymously) for you.
I wasn’t privy to the actual exchange between Gina and the staff at Circle View, but if you get any repercussions or push backs from those outside of the OV School Board, I’d be willing to tell my story privately to any individual that questions your version of what happened –
Thanks so much for sending me your article –
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Thank you, Gail. First, for all you do for HB. And second, for your honesty and ability to stand up to these scoundrels.
Well said Chris. I personally know how the kids and their parents felt about meeting you and hearing your encouragerment about writing.
Posting for a friend – THANK YOU M!
Being a fan and an acquaintance Ray Bradbury it makes me think of Fahrenheit 451. At least how ridiculous this is. This whole city knows what a fine author and contributor as a historian you are keeping our community aware of what has happened in the past and how our city is evolving. You belong at events like this to encourage young people to get interested in reading and writing. They should be pleased you want to participate. Are we now blacklisting writers? If you would like me to send a copy of this letter to the OVSD please let me know. I’m just a concerned citizen that enjoyed your column “In The Pipeline” for many years in the Huntington Beach Independent and I miss it. I cannot understand why you were not invited this year.
I have grandchildren in the school system and I think they are missing out by not hearing you talk. I have been to many of your books signings and have learned so much about our city from your books and talks.
I hope this can get solved,
50 year HB resident
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Chris, were you just banned from Circle View alone? Were you banned from other schools, or from entire district. This is not clear.