“The one thing I will not stand for is discrimination. Do not pick and choose which (books) you allow.” Angela Bertone, author, to Tangipahoa Parish School Board members
A Ponchatoula author claims the Tangipahoa Parish school system won’t let her discuss writing books to students at its public schools because her works carry Christian themes.
School system officials, though, say they would be more than willing to sit down with the author, Angela Bertone, and discuss the issue, saying it amounts to a miscommunication.
Bertone, a devout Christian, has had three Christian-themed books published since 2011 — “The Lion and the Lamb” and “Mary’s Christmas,” which are fictional children’s books about the Virgin Mary’s childhood, and “Good Mourning Sunshine.”
Bertone said Friday she asked the parish’s school system if she could visit public schools to talk about her journey to becoming an author.
But Bertone said the school system shot down her request because of concerns about championing a single religion.
Bertone, an insurance adjustor who writes on the side, said she visited Holy Ghost Catholic School in Hammond a year ago, at the school’s request, to talk about how to become an author and the importance of literary imagination.
Bertone said she wanted to do the same at the parish’s public schools, so she contacted the school system’s central office.
Bertone said she also asked if she would be able to let the schools sell her book as a fundraiser. She said $3 made from every book would have been donated to the schools.
Bertone said she later received an email from the school system denying her requests.
Bertone gave an impassioned plea Tuesday to a Tangipahoa Parish School Board committee to either allow all religions to be presented to students or for none to be presented.
“The one thing I will not stand for is discrimination,” Bertone told board members. “Do not pick and choose which ones you allow.”
Bertone said at the meeting that the email denying her request told her the school system wouldn’t send out fliers promoting Halloween books.
Bertone then went over a Scholastic Reading Club book form distributed last week which she said featured numerous Halloween books for sale. Bertone said she found other religious books in school libraries, including the Quran and the Bible.
“Men and women died for this country to give us freedom of religion — not dictation of which religion can come and which one has to go,” she said.
The board will revisit the issue Nov. 5.
Superintendent Mark Kolwe said Friday he had not received any direct communication from Bertone over the issue. He said he was told Bertone was going to speak Tuesday about character building in schools.
Kolwe, though, said he would be more than happy to speak with Bertone.
Board member Sandra Bailey-Simmons said Bertone was routed to her after she called the central office a few weeks ago. Bailey-Simmons then contacted an assistant superintendent, who initially was OK with the idea until discovering the book had Christian themes.
Bailey-Simmons said she fully supports Bertone’s efforts, noting the Halloween books offered through the reading club and the Islamic literature in the school libraries.
“If they’re already in there, then there shouldn’t be any reason why this lady can’t bring hers in,” Bailey-Simmons said.
Board Vice President Rose Dominguez said she was under the impression Tuesday that Bertone would simply talk about the book itself and not any other issues.
Dominguez said she agrees with Bertone that no religious books should be discriminated against.
“I understand how she feels,” Dominguez said. “It’s not fair to discriminate against one and let the others come in.”
Marjorie Esman, ACLU Louisiana executive director, said the school system would have to determine if the book offers any educational value before deciding whether to allow it into school libraries.
Esman said books like the Bible and Quran are included in school libraries because of their historical merit.
She said the school system is under no obligation to include every book that mentions religious themes.
“There’s an unlimited supply of books out there, and they can’t put every one of them on their shelves,” Esman said. “That may mean that there are some with religious themes that don’t make the cut.”