A flurry of book complaints filed by community members in January have reached the Lee’s Summit Board of Education for review, igniting fiery debates at recent board meetings.
The complaints filed by six community members claim the books in question are pornographic and should be removed from the libraries of the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, a Kansas City suburb.
Over 190 complaints were submitted in total, citing 90 different titles. Of those, 81 have been reviewed by 28 committees formed for that purpose, Kristin Grubbs, one of the complainants who regularly attends board meetings, told The Lion.
“This is not a book banning issue,” said Grubbs, who made the decision to pull her own children out of the school district. “This is a request to restrict access to content that has been deemed by Missouri law to be pornographic for minors, much like alcohol and tobacco are restricted. The content is so graphically sexual, it is unhealthy to knowingly provide it to minors.”
Yet not one of the 81 books has been removed due to pornographic content, according to Grubbs.
“The books under review contain written or pictorial descriptions of vivid sexual encounters,” she notes. “If these scenes were in video form, they’d be X-rated.”
Even the formation of the committees has been a point of controversy, Grubbs adds.
The committees are made up of teachers, librarians, parents, community members and even students, but non-staff members are selected from among two groups, the LSR7 Citizen’s Advisory Committee, which controls membership through an application process, and the LSR7 Parent Academy, whose members are appointed by the superintendent.
Teachers who participated were only selected from the grade levels in which the books resided, meaning no elementary teachers and very few middle school teachers were involved.
Decisions on 56 of the books came in late March, and none were deemed to be pornographic. Four titles were removed for reasons other than pornographic content, and the remaining 52 titles were retained.
“The team determined the material did not fit the definition of pornography as written in Mo. Rev. Stat. Section 573.010(14) because the author’s intent was not to arouse or cause sexual excitement and the material, taken as a whole, has literary, artistic, political or scientific value for minors,” read a committee letter explaining the decisions, sent to Grubbs and other complainants.
The review teams also wrote that the retained books are “important pieces of work that should be accessible to interested high school students,” and “the committees feel these books are appropriate titles for our high school libraries.”
Grubbs appealed the decisions on 45 of the retained titles, which led to a heated debate between board members at the May 4 meeting.
“The discussion continued during the May 18 meeting, which ran late after a lengthy discussion over why the books were being appealed, disagreements as to how they should be addressed, some board members’ disagreement with the complainant’s stance, and how some see it as a complete waste of time and resources,” Grubbs told The Lion. “The debate concluded that night with 41 books being retained by a vote of 4-3, and four books were reserved for further review by the Board.”
The first of those four books, Damsel by Elana Arnold, was discussed at the June 22 board meeting.
Board Member Heather Eslick cited a laundry list of abusive and deviant sexual behaviors in the book, including bestial necrophilia, as reasons for removing the book from district libraries. Other board members disagreed, boiling the argument down to differences in what is considered “suitable” for the children that utilize the school libraries.
The discussion ended with a 4-3 vote to retain the book.
The three other books yet to be discussed are A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah Maas, Empire of Storms by Sarah Maas, and Oryx and Crake: A Novel by Margaret Atwood.
A second batch of 32 books completed committee reviews in early June, resulting in 29 retentions. Again, not one book was deemed pornographic.
“When content of one reviewed book was read in a board meeting in January, the community member reading it had his mic shut off and police officers escorted him out of the room,” Grubbs recalls, an incident also reported by The Lion.
“If it’s not appropriate to read in front of adults at a board meeting, then why should children have access to it in school libraries?” the Lee’s Summit mother asks.
“During May’s board meeting, the Board voted to renew a contract to filter content on all district devices including the Chromebooks the students use. However, the majority of the Board sees no value in filtering the content of the school libraries to protect kids from pornographic content in books.”