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Shawnee Mission weighs policy change after parents raise concerns about book’s descriptions of sex

Shawnee Mission School District
Kyle Palmer

Shawnee Mission will soon consider changing its policy regarding the channel through which parents or patrons can submit complaints about instructional or library resources. The move comes amid parent concerns about a LGBTQ book by George M. Johnson, "All Boys Aren't Blue."

The Shawnee Mission School District will soon consider a revision to its policy outlining how parents can lodge complaints or concerns about instructional or library materials at schools.

The proposed policy revision comes after some Johnson County parents expressed concerns about one book in particular that appeared on a reading list issued by at least one Shawnee Mission elementary school.

The book “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” written by LGBTQ journalist and activist George M. Johnson, bills itself as a “memoir-manifesto” intended for adolescent readers.

In addition to portraying Johnson’s experiences being bullied at school and trying to relate to his grandmother growing up, “All Boys Aren’t Blue” also contains some graphic descriptions of Johnson’s first sexual encounters.

Johnson told NPR last year that he wrote the book to “make sure the next generation of black queer children had something they could relate to and connect with” and that he included such descriptions of sex because he wanted readers to “understand that we are conditioned really poorly around sex, consent, safety.”

Proposed policy change

On Monday, neither board members nor district officials specifically named “All Boys Aren’t Blue” as the reasoning behind the proposed changes.

Superintendent Michelle Hubbard said she recently brought the proposed revisions to the board’s policy committee.

“Just as conversation in public comment over the last couple meetings, I just wanted to make sure that I was familiar with the policy that could have been in question, so I just brought it to the policy review committee,” Hubbard said.

The district no longer records or livestreams public comments before its regular meetings, but at least one parent has spoken about their concerns with “All Boys Aren’t Blue” during public comment sessions in the last two months.

In addition, the Post has received several emails from readers about the book and its passages describing sex, and some readers have urged us to ask about it in recent forums the Post has hosted for school board candidates.

What district says about ‘All Boys Aren’t Blue’

David Smith, the district’s chief communications officer, told the Post via email that “All Boys Aren’t Blue” is currently in the library collections at Shawnee Mission West, East and Northwest high schools.

Smith said the the book, however, is not part of any district-approved curriculum.

At least one Shawnee Mission elementary school also distributed a reading list of dozens of books that included “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” but Smith said no elementary school in the district actually has the book.

Some Johnson County parents expressed concerns about the memoir "All Boys Aren't Blue" by George M. Johnson, which appeared on a reading list issued by at least one Shawnee Mission elementary school.
Macmillan Publishers
Some Johnson County parents expressed concerns about the memoir "All Boys Aren't Blue" by George M. Johnson, which appeared on a reading list issued by at least one Shawnee Mission elementary school.

Smith said the district is sending the following message to parents who express concerns about the book:

"Thank you for your email. The district recently became aware of a list, distributed by district staff, titled “Supplemental Resource Guidance: Diverse, Equitable and Inclusive Resources.” The header and title of the document imply that it is a district curricular resource document, which it is not. It does not represent a list of materials intended to be used for classroom instruction, or as a part of our curriculum. This was a mistake made at the district level, and we apologize for the confusion it has caused.

"The list was originally created by Project Lit, a national grassroots literacy movement developed by a teacher and a group of high schoolers from Nashville, Tennessee. The purpose of Project Lit is to empower students as readers and leaders in our schools and communities. Students come together to read, discuss, and celebrate high quality, culturally relevant books. The goal is to recognize and amplify the voices and experiences of students from all backgrounds, improve literacy, and encourage students to become lifelong leaders.

"Several schools throughout the district have started Project Lit clubs, which function outside of the regular school day, and in which students voluntarily participate. The list in question was developed for and is used by Project Lit, and is not part of the district curriculum. Any materials approved for use as a part of the SMSD curriculum must go through a formal approval process to be considered for classroom instruction, and the list in question is not a list of books that have gone through that process.

"In addition, Project Lit lists the specific book in question as a resource for children aged 12-18, and as 12-year-olds/ sixth graders in Shawnee Mission are in elementary school, concerns have been raised that the book could potentially be accessible by elementary school students. We have checked, and none of our elementary schools have this book. Again, it is not a book that is included in the curriculum at any level in the district."

What would change

The new policy — which Hubbard said changes only which district administrators hear the complaints and articulates deadlines for responses — outlines the following channel of communication regarding parent or patron complaints about instructional and library resources:

  • First, parents or patrons should contact either the teacher, librarian or principal in the school where the resource in question is being used.
  • If that doesn’t solve the issue, the parent or patron can submit a written request for a district “review by the chief academic officer.” The chief academic officer must reply within 14 business days.
  • The next step would be to submit a written request for “a public hearing by a district level committee.” The request would be submitted to the associate superintendent of leadership and learning, as well as the chief of student services or diversity, equity and inclusion.
  • But the request can be denied if district administrators find “that the same issues have been recently and fairly addressed by a prior decision.”
  • Either way, district administrators must still respond to the request within 14 business days.
  • If a district-level public hearing is granted, “a written response containing a final decision” will be prepared within 30 business days, according to board documents.

The first reading of the revised policy was included in the board of education’s Oct. 11 workshop meeting.
The board did not discuss the policy, but a second reading — as well as a formal vote — will be included at the next full board meeting on Oct. 25.

This story was originally published on the Shawnee Mission Post.

Juliana Garcia is a reporter with the Shawnee Mission Post.
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