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Education

Teachers apparently didn't foresee Ouija board ruckus

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 02:31 PM
BRANDON -

Tim Ellefson said he was shocked when his son, who is in seventh grade, came home interested in a book about Ouija boards and summoning spirits.

While many see the Ouija board as a harmless game for fun, others like Ellefson think it's evil.

"We're Christians, and we try to raise our son to be a Christian," said Tim Ellefson, a parent. "My belief is good spirits are in heaven. Bad spirits come from the other place. And I don't want my children connecting with bad spirits."

So Ellefson was furious when he learned a teacher brought a Ouija board into his 13-year-old son's classroom at Burns Middle School in Brandon. His teacher invited a fellow teacher from another Hillsborough County school to speak to her reading class.

The teacher, Theresa Clinton, is also an author and wrote a book – "Ouija Board Diaries: Summoning Spirits."

It's a work of fiction about a young girl who moves into a house with a ghost. The teacher spoke about her book and displayed a Ouija board, printed with the usual letters and symbols for spelling out reputed spiritualistic and telepathic messages.

"We didn't feel that was something that was appropriate," Ellefson said.

"We felt we should have been given an opportunity to select what our children view and had the opportunity to say no on such a controversial subject has a Ouija board."

This class is for students who need help in reading, said Linda Cobbe, Hillsborough school district spokeswoman. Cobbe said the students indicated an interest in books on the paranormal, such as the blockbuster Harry Potter series about a young wizard.

"There was a fake Ouija board, set up in a corner by the book, as a display," Cobbe said. "The teacher did show the students what it was, what it looked like and asked the students if they had ever heard of one."

Cobbe said the students didn't touch the board, and no attempt was made to summon spirits "good or bad."

The teacher meant no harm, Cobbe said, but after the concerns were raised, the Ouija board won't likely be back in the classroom.

"The teacher has been cautioned to consider the type of reactions the parents might have," Cobbe said. "Other teachers who thought about having this book in their class might reconsider now."

The district received a handful of complaints, indicating that some parents had no problem with the Ouija board in the classroom, Cobbe said.

What angered Ellefson further is that the teacher sent the students home with order forms.

"My son was excited and wanted to buy this book," Ellefson said. "We want him to read, sure, but not this. We had to explain that this book and a Ouija board will not be allowed in our home."

The school district allows teachers discretion in choosing classroom speakers – a policy that should be tightened, according to a group including school board candidate Terry Kemple.

The group launched its campaign after learning of a high-school class presentation made by Hassan Shibly, executive director of the Council for American-Islamic Relations in Tampa. CAIR, the group claims, has ties to terrorist groups.

So far, the school board has refused to budge on its policy.


(813) 259-7804 sbehnken@wfla.com Twitter: @shannonbehnken

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