School warns 3 students over peers' fears of "death spells"

Charlotte Observer/January 21, 1999
By Gail Smith

Kannapolis -- Three Kannapolis Middle School girls say their rights were violated when school officials confiscated their books on magic spells and witchcraft.

School officials say they took away the books Jan. 14 because other students told them the girls were putting "death spells" on them. On Thursday, Assistant Principal Bill Kinsey said students' fears about what the girls were reading or doing had created a disruption at school.

But the girls deny threatening other students or trying to put negative spells on them.

"We never heard anybody say anything about us putting a hex on them before this," said Shanna Sawyer, 12, a seventh-grader.

"In a way, it's (about) freedom of speech," Shanna's friend, Meka Robinson, 12, said of the books' being taken away.

Both Shanna and Meka said they were called to the principal's office Jan. 14 and told to turn over any witchcraft books they had. Although the school did return the books at the end of the day, Kinsey said he told the girls they probably would be suspended if they brought the books back.

Another friend, Cortney Howard, said school officials also warned her not to bring witchcraft books to school.

The girls are not trying to harm anyone, said Shanna's mother, Suzanne Sawyer. "Anything considered helping people is good witchcraft," she said.

One book Kinsey took from the girls is titled "Earth, Air, Fire & Water: More Techniques of Natural Magic."

" . . . It's the type of magic that lives within this book: gentle, loving, healing magic. No curses lurk within these pages; no rituals of hatred or jealousy or envy," author Scott Cunningham wrote. Even school officials said the books themselves are not objectionable.

Kinsey said it was what the girls were accused of doing, not the books, that prompted the action.

"I made it very clear (the books) were somewhat innocuous," Kinsey said. "But not when it becomes somewhat of a disputive force at the school. . . . Some students interpreted the girls and the books as threatening to the students, casting spells and that sort of thing."

School counselor Teresa Traurig said she talked during the week of Jan. 11 with more than 20 students who were concerned. "They said these girls were putting spells on them, and death spells on them," Traurig said. "If you have students coming to a counselor upset, some crying, tears in their eyes, afraid, I think we would be very remiss in not addressing this."

Students have a First Amendment right to have their own literature at school, said Deborah Ross, executive director of the N.C. affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union. But if there is a disruption, the school can restrict speech and also books if they are part of the disruption, she said.

The school can't outlaw the books, however, "until they have some sort of hearing and determine the facts," said George Daly, a Charlotte lawyer who has done work for the ACLU.

Melinda Robinson, Meka's mother, said she believes the girls' fascination with witchcraft and spells will pass.

"I think it's a phase," she said. "Kids are going to be kids."

Suzanne Sawyer said the only spell she knows the girls did was a "love spell." The spell involves writing someone's name on a Popsicle stick and dipping it in honey and sugar; the person named "is supposed to have sweet thoughts" about the person who cast the spell.

Sawyer said the girls watch television shows about witches, and their dabbling in spells and magic is innocent.

"When I was a little girl, I wanted to be Samantha on 'Bewitched', she said. "It didn't hurt me none. I'm still a Baptist."

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