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Education

KPS Committee Advocates on Behalf of Keeping Challenged Book

Following a request to remove a book with gay characters from an elementary school library collection, a committee unanimously voted to retain it

By Micah Drew
The entrance to the Kalispell Public Schools office in downtown Kalispell on Sept. 27, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Even as Flathead County’s public library system establishes itself as a hub for screening challenged books, many of which deal with racial or LGBTQ themes, local schools have mostly avoided the debate.

Until now.

Recently, a parent filed a request with Kalispell Public Schools (KPS) administrators to remove the graphic novel “Drama” from its collection at Edgerton Elementary. The coming-of-age story by Raina Telgemeier follows a middle-school-aged protagonist as she takes part in her school’s theater production. And although the book adorns the shelves of many elementary school libraries in the area, it has also been named to the American Library Association’s top-10 list of frequently challenged books, due primarily to the inclusion of two gay characters, and a depiction of an on-stage kiss between two boys.

According to KPS Assistant Superintendent Matt Jensen, the reconsideration request signals the school district’s first in at least two years, even as ImagineIF Library has screened at least four titles at the behest of members of the public.

However, Jensen explained that school policy clearly spells out the procedure for handling such requests, beginning with a meeting between the school’s principal and the parent who submitted it. If the meeting doesn’t yield a resolution, the request moves on to a committee of school board members, teachers, parents and administrators.

On Dec. 1, that committee convened to review the request for reconsideration and unanimously determined that “Drama” would remain in elementary school libraries and retain its recommendation as an age-appropriate title for fourth-grade-and-up students. The recommendation will be passed along to the KPS superintendent for final approval.

The cover of “Drama,” a graphic novel by Raina Telgemeier.

Michelle Humphries, who submitted the reconsideration request, wrote that she felt the book was not suitable for elementary school students based on its content.

“There is an openly gay character and a character openly struggling with his sexuality. I do not think either of these are appropriate. Elementary students do not need to be exposed to such things at this age,” she wrote, recommending the book be made available to high school students. The book is recommended by publishers for ages 10 and up.

Shila Schreiner, library media specialist at Edgerton Elementary, acknowledged that Telgemeier “pushes the envelope a little bit.” However, she added that “when you look at TV and the things children in fourth and fifth grade are seeing right now, there’s nothing in this book different than that.”

Elrod Elementary School Principal Jeff Hornby said the book is “a prettyrealistic depiction of the diversity of middle school and the different things that kids deal with.”

“Books like this give us, as adults and parents, opportunities to have conversations with kids, and give them an adult perspective,” Hornby said. “If not, they’ll come up with their own perspective from the playground, which can be dangerous.”

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