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Independence removes book with a non-binary character from elementary school libraries

The children's book, Cats vs. Robots, has been removed from elementary libraries in the Independence Public School District.
Cats vs. Robots
The children's book, Cats vs. Robots, has been removed from elementary libraries in the Independence Public School District.

The district said the decision was about parents having enough information to choose what is appropriate for their children. But the one board member who voted to keep the book in libraries called the move "dangerous."

The Independence School Board voted this week to remove a book from its elementary school libraries over concerns that it includes a non-binary character.

In a letter to families, the district said the process of reviewing “Cats vs. Robots Volume 1: This is War” began in April after a parent complained about its inclusion of a character who identifies as neither male nor female.

That letter said a nine-member committee agreed that the decision was about parents having enough information to make a choice on what is appropriate for their children.

With this book, the district argued, the subject of sexual identity wouldn’t be obvious when a reader was first checking out the book.

“There are topics in the ‘Cats vs. Robots’ book, including reference to non-binary sexual orientation, which are not evident from the title or cover information which may be new to young readers,” the letter read.

The school board voted on Tuesday to approve the committee’s recommendation to remove the book from the district’s elementary libraries. It will remain in the district’s secondary-level libraries. The district said the book’s topics “are not as likely to be new to readers in older age groups.”

Board member Anthony Mondaine confirmed he was the only member to vote against the book’s removal. He said he voted to retain the book because the district does not read it to students, or promote it in class.

If parents find the book inappropriate, Mondaine said, they should monitor what their child reads and brings into their home.

“I support parents making the decisions for their homes and their children, not other children and entire school buildings,” Mondaine. “This is dangerous. In my opinion, removing the book took away every other parent’s choice, and can send a message of fear, exclusion and only encourages further challenges.”

The book is described on its website as “a delightfully spun tale of robot overlords, secret feline agents, and Earthling humans who are in for a real catastrophe.”

The book’s authors, Margaret Stohl and Lewis Peterson, took to Twitter to express their disappointment in its removal from Independence schools.

“Being a kid — any kid, in any family — is not ever inappropriate, not ever wrong, not ever a crime,” Stohl said on Twitter. "My heart breaks for any kid, in Kansas City or anywhere in the world, who is made to feel otherwise, who doesn't get to see themselves on the shelves of their school library."

Peterson posted a short excerpt from the book where the character Javi says: “It means if you asked me I wouldn’t say I was a BOY or a GIRL.”

The board’s vote follows a trend in Kansas City and beyond of attempts to ban certain books from school libraries.

The district acknowledged the controversy surrounding the issue in its letter to families, but noted that a rating system or parental controls do not exist for library books.

“The goal is always to allow parents a voice in the materials they feel are most appropriate for their child,” the district said.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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