A school district in Kansas will review the Bible for indecency and possible removal from school shelves after a student’s formal request, made in retaliation for other books being flagged and removed.
Two high school seniors spoke Monday in favor of banning the Bible at the Gardner Edgerton School Board meeting, and at least one of them filed a formal review request with the district. The Bible’s fate will apparently be decided in the fall.
Elizabeth Fiedler, a high school senior at the Kansas City-area district, spoke for nearly three minutes, claiming debates about books are exacerbating the teacher shortage and hurting students. She has spoken out at numerous other board meetings this school year in support of liberal causes.
Monday, wearing a shirt that said “radical woman,” Fiedler began her remarks by feigning agreement with parents concerned about inappropriate books.
“Hi, I’m Elizabeth Fiedler. And I am a firm believer in always listening to your opponents’ views, whether in books, speeches or any other media,” she began. “After much reflection, I can agree there are some things children shouldn’t see. It is too inappropriate, even at a high school level. I’m sure everyone in this room can agree that some things shouldn’t have a place in the school.”
But sarcasm became increasingly apparent as she took aim at “one such book” she says “contains some of the most morally reprehensible content,” offering her own take on a few biblical stories.
“This book is the Holy Bible,” Fiedler said, only then revealing her true position: “No one should get to cherry pick based on their own ideologies, of which books belong in schools.”
Fiedler explained she doesn’t believe the Bible should be banned, nor virtually any other book the district has removed.
“Now, let’s be explicitly clear. I have never, nor will I ever believe that books with only a couple things that are slightly inappropriate should be challenged,” the senior said. “The Bible belongs in schools as well as all of these other books.”
Still, fellow student Elayna Moss spoke in actual favor of banning the Bible during the meeting, and according to a local media report, filed a formal request to do so last week.
“But with one book, I agree we should ban; and that’s the Holy Bible,” Moss said, quoting a Bible passage with poetic sexual euphemisms from the Song of Solomon and a graphic passage about circumcision from the Book of Exodus.
The students’ complaints come after the district has reviewed and removed seven books for inappropriateness this school year, while reviewing and retaining two others.
The district didn’t respond to an email from The Lion, and a phone call for district spokesperson Ben Boothe was not returned.
A multitude of parents
Although a few parents have been the most vocal about inappropriate books in the district, they say they have many more supporters, contrary to the claims of local media.
In fact, Carrie Schmidt, a district parent who filed the requests leading to the removal of the seven books, was portrayed as a lone, serial complainer in a March 23 Kansas City Star article headlined, “Johnson County school district keeps removing books after one mom keeps complaining.”
In response, Schmidt started a Change.org petition on the same day for other parents and community members to show that they, too, support the removal of such books. By early April, the petition had more than 600 signatures.
The Star followed up its first story with another, doubling down on its claim that the efforts to remove inappropriate books were from a “lone parent,” suggesting further that support was being drummed up in private Facebook groups and by a national conservative group. The Star even interviewed Fiedler for comment, who supported its narrative.
“One parent has challenged numerous books, all the while crying parents’ choice,” Fiedler told The Star.
Parent Courtney Dunning strongly disagrees with the “lone mom” narrative, saying she and plenty of others are with Schmidt.
“We’re an informal group. But there is a whole community,” Dunning told The Lion. “It’s not just one parent or a small group of people. It’s basically a whole community of parents that are agreeing with us that these books don’t belong in the schools.”
The size of that community may be important to determine, since Superintendent Brian Huff has declared the school district should do whatever 70% or more of the community wants it to.
At Monday’s meeting, after Fiedler and Moss spoke, Huff, impressed by the students, addressed the issue.
“Our job, as administration and board right now, is to determine what the vast majority of our community deems as inappropriate or appropriate,” Huff said. “So, when we define what appropriate is within our libraries, within our curriculum, it’s really what about 70% of our public would deem as appropriate or inappropriate. Our job right now is to define or determine what the definition is based on our community input.”
Huff didn’t say whether the 70% rule was an agreed-upon goal of the board or simply his own. It’s also unclear what mechanisms he might use to determine what 70% of the public deems appropriate.
Dunning also is concerned about the retaliatory nature of the Bible complaint – in contrast to previous, sincere requests from parents about truly improper, age-inappropriate books.
“It is only being reviewed out of retaliation to the books the district has reviewed and removed,” she said, adding that the questionable content of the Bible is far less graphic than that of the books parents are concerned about.
“What is currently happening to our children is awful,” Dunning went on. “We are exposing them to sex, drugs, prostitution, self-harm and life-altering problems, and it is not OK. No minor child should be exposed to the content that is in these books.
“These books teach children how to perform sex acts, be deceitful to their parents, how to obtain drugs and how to get themselves into prostitution. None of these things are OK, and certainly should not be taught to our children.”
‘We are not banning books’
Dunning also emphasizes that she and parents like her are not promoting outright book bans.
“We are not ‘banning’ books, as these books are still available at the public libraries or for purchase from various bookstores and online,” the mother of four said. “If parents truly want their children to read these books, then they have other means of accessing them.
“We have only asked that they not be available in our school district because, as I stated previously, these are minor children we are talking about.”
Dunning also points out that age restrictions on content and activities are already part of everyday life.
“Children aren’t allowed to vote, go to a strip club, buy alcohol or tobacco products; they can’t even go to the movies and watch an R-rated movie without parental consent,” she told The Lion. “So why on earth would we provide such things to them in the first place?”