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ACLU of Ohio alleges Buckeye Valley Local Schools violated a Columbus author's first amendment rights

Copies of 'It's Okay to be a Unicorn' by Jason Tharp.
Wonderville Studios

The ACLU of Ohio is alleging the Buckeye Valley School Board violated the first amendment rights of a Columbus author and students.

It’s Okay to be a Unicorn! is a children's book by Jason Tharp. The book is about a unicorn pretending to be a horse until he learns to embrace his true self. Tharp was invited by Buckeye Valley West Elementary School to read his book in April, but district administration stopped him from reading after some parents and school board members thought it conveyed a pro LGBTQ+ message.

David Carey is the deputy legal director of ACLU Ohio. Carey said actions by the school were an example of viewpoint discrimination— when an institution bans speech based on one opinion without considering others. The organization sent a letter to the school board Thursday.

“School libraries are a very important thing. It is a place where students can learn to read books and learn to think for themselves," Carey said.

The ACLU of Ohio is asking Buckeye Valley Schools to reverse any bans or restrictions on the author's book and to replace any copies removed from the school library. They are also asking the district to adopt and enforce a policy preventing discrimination based on viewpoint in library book acquisition and retention (so long as the book contains no age-inappropriate content), and to adopt and enforce a similar policy with guest speakers.

In a statement, interim school district superintendent Jason Froelich said they have not banned any of Tharp's books and that internal miscommunication led to the actions in April.

“I had asked the school administration to investigate some parental concerns the district had received regarding the author's scheduled visit,” Froelich said. “Unfortunately, before we were able to gather all the facts, there was some miscommunication between the central office and the building administration that led to the alteration of the author's original plan.”

Froelich’s said the district respects everyone’s beliefs, and values and wants all students to feel safe in its buildings.

Tyler Thompson was a reporter and on-air host for 89.7 NPR News. Thompson, originally from northeast Ohio, has spent the last three years working as a Morning Edition host and reporter at NPR member station KDLG Public Radio and reporter at the Bristol Bay Times Newspaper in Dillingham, Alaska.