Letter to the Independence School Board – July 1, 2022

July 1, 2022

Independence School Board President
Eric Knipp
201 North Forest Avenue
Independence, MO 64050

cc: Dr. Dale Herl, Superintendent

Dear Mr. Knipp and Dr. Herl,

As Missouri librarians and members of the Missouri Library Association Intellectual Freedom Committee, we would like to express to you our concern over the banning of Cats vs. Robots  Volume 1: This is War from the elementary libraries in your district. We are concerned that decisions made to remove or restrict could cause harm to the trust that children and their families have in the schools they attend, as well as the students’ ability to pursue inquiry and access materials. LGBTQ+ students need access to authentic representations of Queer experience to provide context for growing up in a predominantly “straight” society, just as cis/heterosexual children benefit from perspectives from non-binary characters that help them empathize with and understand the broader scope of human experience. We ask you to consider why someone would want to restrict access to these perspectives, particularly as our social context becomes increasingly global and interconnected, and individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ participate in an increasingly open and integrated way in our society. We ask you to consider if restricting or removing these works truly serves all the students in your district.

In reference to your email to the district, any type of “rating system” on materials is censoring. Any type of labeling like a warning label is censoring. If you remove a book aimed for 8 to 12 year old children, grades 3 to 7th grades (Cats vs. Robots) from the elementary libraries and place them only in middle and high school libraries, that is censoring the material.

Your Policy 6241 states:

It is therefore the policy of the Board to require that books and other instructional materials shall be chosen for values of educational interest and the enlightenment of all students in the community. Instructional materials shall not be excluded on the basis of the writer’s racial, nationalistic, political, or religious views. Every effort will be made to provide materials that present all points of view concerning international, national and local problems and issues of our times. Books, or other instructional or media materials of sound factual authority, shall not be prescribed, nor removed from library shelves or classrooms on the basis of partisan or doctrinal approval or disapproval.

You have removed the book in concern because of partisan and doctrinal approval. This includes stated reasons such as:

  • “not age appropriate”
  • “A very specific message regarding this topic, which is complicated and can be life-alternating”
  • “It seemed like the author had an ‘agenda’…he agreed that this material was questionable”
  • “gender is not mostly made up”

This removal does not present the point “of view concerning international, national and local problems and issues of our times”. Board Member Fears stated that the ISD district has non-binary identified students, the earliest being in 2nd grade.

Please find attached the MLA’s recent statement on intellectual freedom. In it, we outline the necessity of protecting the opportunities for access to diverse perspectives of which our students avail themselves to be well-rounded citizens and empathetic participants in contemporary society. As with other challenges in the state, we ask you to consider the irreparable harm that undermining intellectual freedom causes to students and their trust in public institutions that come between them and attempts to understand their world. We have also attached a glossary to LBGTQ+ terms that explains that non-binary is a gender identity, not a sexual orientation.

We support those teachers, librarians, and employees working toward maintaining and promoting inclusive library collections, and those who cultivate spaces for free inquiry and curiosity to flourish in schools. We support parents working to promote access to materials in your district, and applaud their efforts to support their kids during this fraught time. We lament the amount of abuse, stress, and other negative consequences students and hardworking teachers and librarians suffer as these regrettable censorship campaigns continue. Please support your students by reconsidering your recent decision to remove Cats vs Robots from elementary libraries. Please support intellectual freedom and put this item back on the shelf.

Signed,

Joe Kohlburn
MLA-Intellectual Freedom Committee 2022 Chair

Colleen Norman
MLA-Intellectual Freedom Committee 2023 Chair-elect

Tiffany Mautino
MLA-Intellectual Freedom Committee Past Chair (2021)

Casey Phillips
MLA-IFC Member/ Social Media and Communications

Ying Li
MLA-IFC Member

Kris Dyer
MLA-IFC Member/ Legislative Liaison

Kimberly Moeller
MLA-IFC-Board Liaison

Otter Bowman
Missouri Library Association President-Elect

Attachments:

MLA Statement on Recent Challenges – http://molib.org/mla-statement-on-intellectual-freedom/

LGBTQ+ Glossary of Terms – https://www.hrc.org/resources/glossary-of-terms