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Scholastic backtracks, saying it will stop separating diverse books for fairs in 2024

Scholastic says it will stop offering the controversial collection of race- and gender-related titles at middle school book fairs starting in January.
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Scholastic says it will stop offering the controversial collection of race- and gender-related titles at middle school book fairs starting in January.

Updated October 25, 2023 at 11:35 AM ET

Scholastic is reversing course, saying it will no longer separate diverse stories for school book fairs after weeks of mounting backlash from educators and authors.

The educational company, which both publishes and distributes books, waded into hot water last month after it confirmed that it was changing its policy for its middle school book fair offerings.

It said it was putting most of the titles dealing with race, gender and sexuality into their own collection, and allowing schools to decide whether to order it, as they would with any display.

Scholastic said the change was aimed at helping districts navigate the book bans that have proliferated across the country. They said such laws — either pending or enacted in more than 30 states — create "an almost impossible dilemma: back away from these titles or risk making teachers, librarians, and volunteers vulnerable to being fired, sued, or prosecuted."

But their solution was quickly slammed by many educators and authors, who accused the company of caving to censorship. Many said on social media and online petitions that they wished it would take a stronger stand against such legislation and offer the books anyway.

The backlash further picked up steam after Scholastic issued a statement on October 13 explaining their decision. Racial justice and free speech advocacy groups slammed Scholastic for making diversity optional, accusing it of caving to the small but vocal minority of Americans who support book bans and depriving students of important stories and perspectives.

Ellie Berger, the president of Scholastic Trade Publishing, apologized and announced the change in a letter Tuesday addressed to authors and illustrators, a copy of which was obtained by NPR.

"Even if the decision was made with good intention, we understand now that it was a mistake to segregate diverse books in an elective case," she wrote. "We recognize and acknowledge the pain caused, and that we have broken the trust of some of our publishing community, customers, friends, trusted partners, and staff, and we also recognize that we will now need to regain that trust."

Berger said the controversial collection — called "Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice" — will be discontinued starting in January. Book fairs are already underway for this fall, but also take place in the spring. She said the company is actively working on a "pivot plan" for the remaining fall fairs.

"We will find an alternate way to get a greater range of books into the hands of children," Berger wrote, before reaffirming the company's commitment to BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ authors and stories. "We pledge to stand with you as we redouble our efforts to combat the laws restricting children's access to books."

In a statement issued Wednesday, Scholastic said it will keep in mind the needs of the children it serves as well as educators facing local content restrictions.

"It is unsettling that the current divisive landscape in the U.S. is creating an environment that could deny any child access to books, or that teachers could be penalized for creating access to all stories for their students," it wrote.

PEN America, the nonprofit organization that supports free speech, acknowledged Scholastic's dilemma and applauded its decision to pivot.

"Scholastic recognized that, as difficult a bind as this pernicious legislation created, the right answer was not to become an accessory to censorship," Jonathan Friedman, the director of its Free Expression and Education program, said in a statement. "Scholastic is an essential source of knowledge and a delight for countless children. We are glad to see them champion the freedom to read."

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Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.