Sen. Rick Kloos, R-Topeka, demanded the superintendent of Shawnee Heights school district remove the book “Gender Queer” without going through established process in the district for review of book complaints. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Republican Sen. Rick Kloos added his voice to a national movement to ban books from public school libraries by demanding immediate removal from Shawnee Heights High School of the autobiography “Gender Queer” because he contends it wasn’t suitable for teenagers.
Kloos, who operates the Topeka thrift story and church God’s Storehouse, issued the ultimatum to Shawnee Heights superintendent Tim Hallacy, arguing the text and visual content of the book should be considered “pornographic.” He said in Facebook posts that Shawnee Heights parents had registered an objection to “Gender Queer,” a 2019 book by Maia Kobabe.
He said he was aware of the broader campaign in the United States to clean out “such books” from school libraries because insights could be consumed by someone as young as 14.
“I am addressing this because the content, whether heterosexual or homosexual, is inappropriate,” Kloos said. “In this case, this book has gone too far, and I pray he takes action for its removal.”
Hallacy said he met with Kloos Wednesday to listen to the senator’s concerns and to explain the school district had a policy established more than 15 years ago for review of complaints about books in the library or part of the classroom curriculum. He said he didn’t have authority to walk into the high school’s library and unilaterally make the decision to jettison a book.
A school district committee, the superintendent said, was responsible for reviewing content of books subject to complaints prior to action by the district. Currently, he said, four books regarding race or LGBTQ issues were undergoing review. On Thursday, a complaint was submitted to the district about “Gender Queer.”
“I informed the senator we have a process,” Hallacy said.
Kloos said he wasn’t interested in waiting for the drawn-out district review. When a book is under review by the district, it remains available to students.
“While there may be other books subject to a removal process,” the senator said, “I believe this one should be removed immediately.”
Hallacy said parents had the opportunity under current Shawnee Heights policy to opt a child out of academic subjects or to avoid certain materials viewed as objectionable by that family. He said the flurry of book challenges, however, raised questions about whether it was appropriate for an individual or group of parents to decide what other children in the school district had the opportunity to read in class or at the library.
“These efforts are targeting groups of people who have always struggled with being marginalized,” the superintendent said. “It is a slippery slope. Where do these requests end?”
The controversy in Shawnee Heights surfaced while Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed a bill passed by the Kansas Legislature establishing in state law a bill of rights for parents in terms of K-12 public education. The House and Senate would have an opportunity to override her veto when they return April 25 to Topeka.
The bill would affirm in state statute policies of school districts that allow parents to challenge the use of educational materials. In addition, the bill would establish a statewide system for parents to review instructional materials to be used during education on the parent’s child.
Senate Majority Leader Larry Alley, R-Winfield, lauded Kloos for meeting with the superintendent and advocating removal of the “Gender Queer” chronicle of the author’s journey of self-identity, including the confusion of adolescent crushes, coming out to family and society and bonding with friends over erotic fiction.
“This visit highlights what parents should be doing and the reason for the parents’ bill of rights,” Alley said.
Kloos’ statements on Facebook urging Hallacy to promptly pull the book off the high school library’s shelf elicited dozens of responses on social media. He was both praised and condemned.
Sara Weeder-Korus, who has a child enrolled in the Shawnee Heights district, said she was opposed to teachers or librarians being involved in educational issues of sexuality. She did recognize some parents failed to deal with the issue at home.
“That doesn’t mean the school gets a green light to parade pornography in front of my child in the name of gender wokeness,” Weeder-Korus said.
In response to Weeder-Korus, Nathan Schmidt said “Gender Queer” wasn’t pornography.
“It’s a cartoon, much like Sen. Kloos,” Schmidt said. “They call it porn because they know that will get people who would never challenge conservative dogma all fired up. It obviously worked.”
Andy New, who said he had four children in Shawnee Heights schools, suggested all books recommended for inclusion in the school library be reviewed and put to some form of vote. He said the “Gender Queer” book was pornographic and “doesn’t belong on book shelves of any age.”
Ben Blankley said on Facebook the senator’s public demand for removal of a library book was bad for Kansas business, because employers expected employees to be “culturally competent and knowledgeable about diversity, equity and inclusion, including LGBTQ issues.”
“Removing high quality, diverse reading materials from our Kansas schools ensures that we do not produce highly trained future workers who remain in demand in a global economy,” Blankley said.
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