Book Ban: Challenge Accepted

District Removes Books, Reverses Ban

December 16, 2021

     For the first time in district history, officials mandated that all North Kansas City School District high schools pull two books from the shelves of their libraries. 

     North Kansas City School District board meeting Oct. 26, James Richmond, president of The Northland Parent Association, read what he considered offensive passages from two books and presented a list of 25 books the group wanted removed from North Kansas City schools. The board mandated removal of “All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir Manifesto”  and “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic.” Oct. 28. In doing so,  the district bypassed the formal process of withdrawing books from school libraries. 

      “When they asked us to remove the books, I said that I disagreed with that,”  Library Media Specialist Elizabeth Ferguson said. “We have a procedure in place that says the books would stay on the shelf, and since I refused to pull them, they sent someone over and took one of the books, ‘All Boys Aren’t Blue’ from the library.” 

We have a procedure in place that says the books would stay on the shelf, and since I refused to pull them, they sent someone over and took one of the books, ‘All Boys Aren’t Blue’ from the library.”

— Library Media Specialist Elizabeth Ferguson

       

     Board President Jan Kauk said the books were removed so the administration could take a look at the concerns, consider the policies and make a decision about what action should be taken going forward. 

       “We believed that was the right thing to do,” Kauk said. “We had to look at our policies and our practices, and we always have to make sure that we follow our protocol. We realized, in this case, we had some conflicting protocols.” 

     Kauk said the district had a policy allowing an administrator to pull a book for review before taking action, and other policies indicated they would remain in circulation until district procedures determined they should be removed.

      Senior Jay Schmidtlein said “Fun House” shouldn’t be deemed inappropriate or explicit for high school readers.

       “I have read books with explicit heterosexual sex that came from our school’s library, and it has never received any complaints as far as I know,” Schmidtlein said. “I get how since it is a graphic novel it is explicitly showing it, however, it’s not fair that it’s being targeted because it is two women and not a man and a woman.”

      On Nov.19, the district reversed the ban, sending an email addressing the error they made by removing the books without following protocol, and said they would be returned to shelves Nov. 22.

      “After further looking at it and listening and hearing the student’s presentations and considering all points, we felt it was important to bring them back,” Kauk said.

       The following board meeting also Nov. 22, students from North Kansas City High School spoke out and presented their cases about the book removal. District administration saw flaws within the book removal process and discussed how they will approach the situation going forward.

 

Fighting Censorship

Northtown Students Speak Against Book Ban 

North Kansas City High School students believed the district’s removal of two library books was against policy and wanted to do something about it. Students filled spots to speak to the board during the meeting. Here are some of their speeches.

Lynh Nguyen, 12

Lynh Nguyen, 12 Cassie Ford

 “When I first read Fences, it was one of the most life-changing books for me. I realized how essential these books were in the classroom. Even though the book discusses the African-American identity, I could emotionally relate to the literature piece because I was also a Person-of-Color. These literature pieces offer a voice for me, the Asian Student Union, People of Color, and marginalized groups. These pieces offer a voice that historically wasn’t there before. In the context of history, there have been many cases of groups banning and burning books. Who are these groups you may ask? Banning books is the means by which dictators and totalitarian governments convince masses of their truths- when you eliminate information, it can not be used to justify a point of view and thus no opposing argument can be made. An additional instance of this is in the banning of historical books, such as those about the Holocaust and slavery. This is even more dangerous, as sheltering inevitably breeds ignorance. They’ve already taken two of our books off the shelves. The more power we give them, the more likely it will be that Asian-American authors will be on the next list. Books don’t corrupt the mind, ignorance, and intolerance are what corrupt students. We stand together.”

Charles Moloney, 12

Charles Moloney, 12 Cassie Ford

“The Northland Parents Association (who I see is here with us tonight) has become an increasingly prevalent force at our school board meetings. I have seen them disrupt and ridicule our administration, pursue legal action with our schools, and more recently, even try to censor a list of 25 or more books in our district. The NPA claims these actions come from a place of good faith. They claim the attempts to censor these books is to protect our youth, as the exposal to explicit or taboo content is desensitizing or grooming us to such acts. Furthermore, they have made the baseless claim that the district’s emphasis on diversity has pulled us away from proper education, and they have even gone so far as to claim that promoting cultures other than our own is making many students like myself feel as if they do not belong. Let me take a moment to set the record straight, I am a straight white man in a middle-class family, I’m a senior at the most diverse high school in the state of Missouri, and I’m proud to call NorthTown my home. I feel incredibly fortunate to be a part of an educational system that incorporates diversity, equity, and inclusion with an already rigorous curriculum, offering each and every student the resources they need to succeed. My school has given me so much, however, in light of recent claims by the NPA, tonight, I feel compelled to tell you what my school has not done. My school has not made me feel as if I don’t belong. My school has not sacrificed academics for our diversity, and I firmly believe NorthTown has some of the best and most engaging teachers our state has to offer. Lastly, my school has not made me desensitized to graphic or concerning content, but rather made me more aware of the issues faced by many less fortunate than I. To the members of the board, I must emphasize that the individuals you typically hear from at these are the vocal minority. As you’ve heard and will be hearing from many of my peers tonight, I must stress that these views do not reflect those of your students. And to the members of the NPA, I, we, are not your enemy. We represent the students you wish to protect and the product of this district, and if any of you in attendance would like to speak to me on these matters further, I will be hereafter public comment time is up. To everyone here tonight, beyond the politics, anger, and hatred we have seen time and time again expressed at these meetings, we all must not lose sight of what we are here to do at the end of the day: teach kids. This is not the first time an organization has attempted to compromise the integrity of our education, and I’m certain it will not be the last. The students of this district, the learning majority, will continue to fight for the quality learning experience we deserve, and on this, we stand together.”

Aurora Nicol, 12

Aurora Nicol, 12 Cassie Ford

“By banning these books we’ll be erasing all of the work we’ve made to make education inclusive. As president of the Latinx Student Union and as a minority I see how uneducated our district still is on the variety of racial experiences. Within the Hispanic and Latinx communities, there is a lot of colorism and prejudice towards other races just like any other community. Education can reverse these harmful teachings. Within the clubs at Northtown, we’ve made it a priority to listen to other experiences than our own as we develop empathy and understanding in a world filled with polarization and judgment. Literature provides the opportunity to take a glimpse of what another group has had to endure. I’d like to ask this, what do we earn from limiting our education? Banning intersectional books will only hurt our schools. Underrepresentation, discrimination, and violence are things we’ve endured for far too long. We have enough books and history made about the white experience in America, we need representation or else our students will fail. On the panorama survey, the majority of our students felt like they did not belong. With a school of about 40% white students but with over 80% white teachers, no wonder why these books are some of the students’ favorites. We can connect with them and by teachers including diverse books into the classroom, we can connect with them as well. Real and raw conversations about race, gender, and sexuality humanize us. The media has done the opposite by stereotyping the population in a negative light. This applies to every single identity; therefore, I hope we can all relate to this struggle and sympathize. Literature can counteract this.”

Katharine Moloney, 11

Katharine Moloney, 11 Cassie Ford

“The NPA appears to be curious as to why sexual intercourse and rape which I would like to preface that RAPE WILL NEVER be pornographic as it is not sex, is often mentioned in queer literature. Understanding that coming to a sexual orientation that is not defined to society as “normal” would include trials of intercourse for many individuals, is not a hard concept to grasp. This very intimate aspect has been placed in literature for a purpose, and it’s important for us to understand why. But maybe the authors of these books could explain that better than I could. George M Johnson, the author of all boys aren’t blue, stated this in an NPR interview: “This book was as much part educational as it was pushing back on whatever norms forced you to think my sex wasn’t valid or shouldn’t be talked about in its full truth. And even more, I needed those who I represent to understand my story so that they wouldn’t have to make those same risky mistakes and attempts that I did. This isn’t the first time the NPA has tried to steal the dignity of my community. On September 18th, 2021, the NPA reposted a picture of the Progress pride flag hanging at Briarcliff elementary school, with many stating that is inappropriate to teach children of these matters. They were outraged that an elementary school wanted all their kids to feel safe and included, that not everyone comes from a heterosexual nuclear family.  Our stories will not always look as pristine and child-friendly as cis-straight ones will, but they’re important for everyone, especially kids struggling with similar issues, to hear. We will continue to fight for love and our lost voices.”

Board Of Education Meeting

Student Speeches Start At 28:18

Nov. 22, 2021: NKC School District Board Of Education Meeting

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