Kansas City librarian derides parents as ‘people who can’t let other people have opinions’ in front of audience of high school students

As Senior Teen Librarian at the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library,  Kelsey Bates says she gets to “live my dream of creating a warm and welcoming space for teens at the…

As Senior Teen Librarian at the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library,  Kelsey Bates says she gets to “live my dream of creating a warm and welcoming space for teens at the library.”

Parents may think otherwise about feeling a warm welcome themselves, after hearing what she told area students Monday.

During a PowerPoint presentation on “banned” books to high schoolers from several KC schools at the system’s Central Library downtown, Bates asked the teens what kind of people they think would want to ban books.

“People who can’t let other people have opinions,” one student offered – to which Bates replied, “Yes. We call them ‘parents.’” The line drew laughs, including from other adults in the room.

Bates also lamented to the teens that a Johnson County, Kansas, school district “keeps removing books because one mom keeps complaining about the books. And because of that, they had to remove many, many books – because one person has decided that people should not have access to those books.” 

Bates appears to have been talking about mom Carrie Schmidt, who the Kansas City Star opined “has brought one complaint after another, 11 in all” in Gardner Edgerton Unified School District 231 near Kansas City.

Schmidt disputed Bates’ claim the district had removed “many, many” books – only about seven, she says – as well as Bates’ characterization that Schmidt is alone in her concern.

“I am not a lone wolf. I have supporters that are behind me,” Schmidt tells The Heartlander, citing petitions with hundreds of signatures. Moreover, she adds, it’s district administrators who have removed the books.

Bates and The Star are “giving me a whole lot of credit when I didn’t actually remove them,” Schmidt says. “I brought it to their attention. Then, they made a choice collectively, or whoever was in charge of that, they decided it.”

They clearly felt Schmidt was onto something. “It took a lot for them to remove those books,” she says. “All the books that have been removed are very highly sexually explicit. So, I have a hard time understanding why people defend these sexually explicit books.”

Another book up for review, she says, features a handful of teens who are prostituting themselves.

Parents find themselves being marginalized by school districts across the country and the Kansas City region. When an Olathe, Kansas, parent took issue with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion curriculum in the district, a school board member suggested he educate his children in another state.

One patron in the Lee’s Summit district in Missouri earlier this year was actually escorted out by a security guard after merely reading excerpts of a book in a district library called All Boys Aren’t Blue. The board president who gaveled the citizen down and had him escorted out objected to the language in the book, saying it was against board policy.

Among other questions regarding Bates’ presentation, The Heartlander asked a Kansas City Public Library spokesperson whether deriding parents in front of area teens undermines respect for parents, their authority, and the family’s individual values and culture.

“Kansas City Public Library stands behind Kelsey Bates and all of our librarians,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to The Heartlander. “Youth librarians are trained to support a parent/guardian’s right to the decisions they make for their own child/teen.

“The Library’s stance is that a parent/guardian has the right to guide their own child/teen in their media consumption (books, television, movies, computer usage, etc.). Parents/guardians differ on what choices they make with and for their child and each parent/guardian has the right to guide their own child but not anyone else’s child. The Library offers an option for parents to request specific items for purchase, and we encourage readers to view our catalog for book reviews.

“As a profession, librarians hold the Library Bill of Rights and the First Amendment as vital to their professional ethics. A reconsideration policy and procedure is key to upholding those standards. Reconsideration procedures offer an opportunity for patrons and staff to request materials be removed or to be moved from one area of the library to another (such as from the children’s area to the adult area).

“When the procedure is followed, changes may be made. It’s important that any challenge must follow the procedure, and librarians and teachers do not remove materials without following procedure.”

Schmidt, however, takes particular umbrage at Bates’ flippant remark that parents are “people who can’t let other people have opinions.”

“What that says is that parents don’t know anything. We need to shut the parents up. Don’t listen to your parents,” Schmidt says. “I don’t know why we’re teaching kids to trust strangers, but then not their parents anymore and their family.

“In my opinion Ms. Bates should not be working with children. Not only does it appear that she is advocating for children to be exposed to sexually explicit material, but you don’t tell children that their parents are the problem to ‘book banning.’

“You don’t undermine and disrespect parents to children, period. She crossed a line and is clearly in the wrong profession. What she said wasn’t a mistake or a joke. I guarantee this is not the first time she has made snide, belittling and negative remarks about parents to children. Shame on her.

“I find it interesting that the Library did not address the main issue at hand here, which is the statement that Ms. Bates made disrespecting parents. What she said to minor children about their mom and dad being the problem is wrong. For the library to ignore her comment and stand behind her is beyond alarming.

“Ms. Bates’ comparing my mission of getting inappropriate books out of our children’s schools  to actual book banning is ridiculous. In all of my book reviews that I have sent to my school district I have told them to give those books to the public library.”

Bates’ presentation was part of the KC Central Library downtown’s observance of Constitution Day, the celebration of its Sept. 17, 1787, signing.

She spoke at some length about a rule that Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft has issued as a result of numerous concerns over explicit materials in school libraries and children’s and youths’ sections in public libraries. She prefaced her remarks on the rule by telling students, sardonically, “we also have a lot of really fun things happening here in Missouri and Kansas.” 

Bates said Ascroft controls funding for all the libraries in the state, and if libraries don’t do what his rule says, “we would lose funding.” That would amount to 10% of the Kansas City Public Library’s overall funding, she said, adding that, “For some small libraries .. that could be almost all of their funding.”

There are some libraries that had to remove over 300 books to comply with “this rule that is not super-clear,” she said, adding the ACLU has filed a lawsuit challenging the rule.

Citing “Banned Books Week” Oct. 1-7, Bates exhorted the students to read banned books and show up to school board meetings to advocate for them. She also invited students to read the library’s response to Ashcroft’s rule, noting that the library “had to change some of our policies and procedures.” 

Though she didn’t make it clear to the students, Ashcroft’s rule merely required libraries to have written policies and procedures for dealing with obscene and age-inappropriate material, and which forbid the purchase of it in some cases.

She made a point of telling the students the Missouri Legislature may look at codifying Ashcroft’s rule in the law, “so keep updated on that.”

“This is stuff where your voice is needed. If this were to happen at your school, I highly recommend 1) reaching back out to us so that we can assist you as librarians … we want to help other libraries with this.” They also have a national group, she said, to help with “these kinds of challenges and fights. But also, to show up to school board meetings, show up and let people know that you want to be able to access these books.

“At the end of the day we think that individuals should be trusted to make their own decisions about what to read.”

On that, The Heartlander asked the library spokesperson whether Bates believes there is ever any reason to keep any book from any student of any age. The response was that “there are collections of materials created for children, materials created for teens, and materials created for adults. These collections are in separate areas in each Library location.”

As for Schmidt, she argues that letting students be the only arbiter of what’s appropriate would be an invitation to destructive and possibly corroding ideas and imagery – and an abrogation of the teaching process.

The Heartlander learned late Tuesday that another concerned citizen had just received word that a book she had reviewed and was concerned about, Milk and Honey, had been pulled by the district.

“After conferring with our librarian, and even seeking other opinions, both staff and parents,” a principal wrote, “I have made the decision to remove this book from our shelves.”

The seven books Schmidt says were removed by school administrators are:

  • It Ends With Us, by Colleen Hoover
  • A Court of Silver Flames, by Sarah J. Maas
  • Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas
  • A Court of Mist and Fury, by Sarah J. Maas
  • Run Away With Me, by Mila Gray
  • Come Back to Me, by Mila Gray
  • Stay With Me, by Mila Gray