A Baltimore-area author of children's books has been banned from visiting Harford County public schools after publicly suggesting that a 10-year-old girl disrobe during a visit to her school, a comment the author said was a quip that was taken out of context.
Author Richard Lynn Stack, a former lawyer who visits schools around the country with his dogs, was at Abingdon Elementary School on April 16 for an event when a student asked Stack to autograph her forehead, said Don Morrison, a spokesman for the county school system.
Morrison said that parents of students who were nearby reported two days later that Stack responded by saying he would give the student an autograph if she climbed on a lunch table and took off her clothes. Stack told school officials he was making an absurd comment in response to the student's unusual request, Morrison said.
Yesterday, Stack called the situation "ludicrous" and deferred to a prepared statement. He said he was on his way to a function at another school.
"I had a great time at the school and was very well-received," Stack said in the statement, noting that hundreds of students and a dozen staff members were close by. "I am confident everyone there connected with my visit knows that nothing improper was intended."
School officials said the comment was inappropriate and notified Stack on Friday that he would no longer be allowed in Harford County schools; he had been scheduled to appear again at Abingdon Elementary that day. The incident was reported by the local newspaper, The Aegis.
"It's not something you can tolerate as a school system, that an adult would use that type of phraseology around a group of 10-year-olds," Morrison said.
Stack, of Linthicum Heights in Anne Arundel County, gained notoriety in the mid-1990s when his dog, dubbed "Josh the Wonder Dog," landed in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the "Most Petted Dog." According to news reports, Stack took Josh to schools and libraries around the country and recorded the names of 408,127 people who had petted or hugged the mixed-terrier.
Josh, who attended the GOP convention in 1992 and "declared" for president in 1996, died in 1997. Stack's next dog, Recess, died three weeks ago, Stack said, and he has brought in a new dog.
Stack's books include The Doggonest Christmas Ever, the first in a series of "Doggonest" books that he sells through his company, Windmill Press, on his Web site and in stores.
No one contacted police about the Abingdon incident, but representatives of Harford County's Child Advocacy Center have started an "informal investigation," according to David Betz, the center's coordinator. He said he would contact Stack and parents of children who were present at the time.
"It's a red flag," Betz said. "It's not a comment you make nowadays in that environment. It may have just been a huge mistake and that was it, but we don't know."
Morrison said Stack was compensated for his appearances. In a 1997 profile in The Sun, Stack said he receives a commitment for a minimum order of his books and other memorabilia in exchange for appearances.
According to Stack's biography, he practiced law from 1969 to 1989 before devoting his time to writing children's books and making appearances.