DALLAS (AP) — A Texas school district has removed an assistant principal from his post after he authored a children's book whose central character is also a white supremacist symbol.
Eric Hauser self-published a book this summer, titled "The Adventures of Pepe and Pede," about a frog and centipede seeking "truth and honesty" against "deceitful forces threatening their home," according to the website of Post Hill Press, which purchased Hauser's book last week. The publisher offers Christian and politically conservative publications, among others.
Pepe the Frog, which first appeared more than a decade ago in an online cartoon, has been appropriated by white supremacists and other racists in online memes, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The organization said the character didn't originally have such connotations, but the use of racist and bigoted versions of Pepe has been increasing in recent years, which prompted the group to categorize the character as a hate symbol.
The Denton school district, north of Dallas, said in a statement Monday that the publicity generated by Hauser's work has become a "distraction." The district said he was being reassigned from his position at a middle school to an undetermined post.
Superintendent Jamie Wilson said the district encourages staff and students to be free-thinkers and to express ideas, but "when these ideas interrupt the ability to learn, work or create divisiveness, each of us is held accountable."
"The students, the community and the teachers are too important to me to subject them to all the negativity and disapproval resulting from this book," Hauser said as part of the district's statement. "To my colleagues, I offer my deepest apologies if this has affected them or their families in any negative way."
Hauser dedicated the book to "fellow centipedes," a nickname used by supporters of President Donald Trump.
Hauser told The Dallas Morning News that he knew Pepe as a conservative meme, but not a white supremacist one. He said people who learned about his book started discussing the darker aspects of Pepe with him. He said he chose Pepe because he's a "funny" and "lovable" character.
Hauser's home phone number isn't publicly listed. However, the district statement quotes Hauser as saying: "Due to the controversy surrounding the book I have published, I think it's best that I not serve as assistant principal at Rodriguez. The students, the community, and the teachers are too important to me to subject them to all the negativity and disapproval resulting from this book. To my colleagues, I offer my deepest apologies if this has affected them or their families in any negative way."
District spokesman Mario Zavala said Hauser, who was under contract for the 2017-18 school year, is on administrative leave pending a school board decision on his status.
Post Hill Press described Hauser's book as a tale that children "will find an exciting battle of good vs. evil and adults will find clever parallels to the conflict between truth and ignorance that faces America's leaders."
Anthony Ziccardi, publisher of Post Hill Press, told the AP that the company purchased the book last week after noticing it was trending online. He declined to say what Hauser was paid for the rights.
"I don't see any reason why if you're a pro-Trump supporter you can't write a children's book that shares the message of President Trump's mandate of law and order," Ziccardi said. "We feel there was a move online to turn these characters into something they're not."
Ziccardi said he was surprised by the fallout involving the school district, explaining that Hauser "did not go in and say, 'I'm going to embrace this negative message and create a character from it.'"
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