A book detailing the sexual exploits of a young man is on the approved reading list for students as young as sixth grade in some Johnson County School districts. The Blue Valley, Olathe, and Shawnee Mission School Districts are responding to agitated parents after an Olathe school board candidate posted pages from the “All Boys Aren’t Blue” to Facebook.
The book is a nonfiction memoir that describes sexual acts in graphic detail. Good Reads calls it “a primer for teens eager to be allies as well as a reassuring testimony for queer men of color.”
Olathe school board candidates Brian Connell, Jenny Gilmore, and Robert Kuhn brought the book to the attention of voters via social media. Gilmore calls the book “pornography.”
“I don’t see the educational value of giving children pornography,” Gilmore said in a Facebook Live video.
Board candidate says book is not appropriate for school
Pages from the book posted on social media are graphic.
“He reached his hand down and pulled out my dick. He quickly went to giving head,” page 266 of the book reads.
According to Gilmore, it’s not appropriate for a school setting.
“If we’re just talking about what’s appropriate language for children, I would guarantee you that if I took this book to a board meeting, I could not read it out loud,” she said in the Facebook video. “…They would shut down the meeting.”
Facebook removed Gilmore’s original post that featured an excerpt from the book. The social media company said the content violated “standards on nudity or sexual activity.”
In Blue Valley, the book is not a required or supplemental novel used in whole-class instruction. However, it is available for checkout in four of the district’s high school libraries.
A Shawnee Mission Elementary School newsletter listed the book as among its new titles for ages 12-18, but the digital copy of the newsletter no longer includes the list of new titles.
The book ended up in a 7th grade English classroom in Olathe thanks to a grant from the Olathe Schools Foundation.
Book purchase tied to grant from Olathe Schools Foundation
OSF is a non-profit organization that provides grants and scholarships to teachers and students in the Olathe School District. Last year, the organization provided $100,000 in classroom grants. A 7th-grade English teacher received the grant in order to join a program called Project LIT. Mill Valley High School, part of the De Soto School District, hosts a Project LIT chapter as well.
The national grassroots literacy program is dedicated to “increasing access to culturally relevant books and promoting a love of reading in schools and communities across America.” Once the Olathe 7th grade English teacher joined Project LIT, she created an Amazon list requesting classroom books, many from Project LIT’s reading lists. “All Boys Aren’t Blue” is a Project LIT 2020-2021 national book club selection. According to the district, a patron purchased and gifted the book to the classroom.
“It is my understanding that the teacher only had one copy in her classroom, and there were two copies total in the district at the high school level,” Becky Grubaugh, communications director for Olathe Schools, said. “The district has requested that they be removed, as the book is not part of the district’s approved core reading list for all students.”
District employees approve curriculum, library materials
The Olathe district uses a team of individuals, including administrators, department chairpersons, teachers, and library media specialists regarding curriculum materials, she said. Blue Valley also uses certified librarians and professional reviews for age appropriateness in selecting library materials.
“In the case of ‘All Boys Aren’t Blue’ four such reviewers found the book appropriate for grades 9 and above or age 14 and above. These reviewers include Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Publisher’s Weekly, and the School Library Journal,” Kaci Brutto, Blue Valley School District Director of Communications, said.
This is the same district that banned “Of Mice and Men,” “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” from class study over diversity concerns.
Parents worry that schools use organizations like Project LIT to circumvent the transparency used for curriculum materials. According to Sen. Molly Baumgardner, chair of the Senate Education Committee, parents want to know what schools are doing. They want to know ahead of time, and they want the ability to opt out.
“Parents have had enough. Parents are opening the windows and they’re screaming that they’re mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore,” Baumgardner said.
The parental outrage is not about banning books, Gilmore said. It’s about being cautious about what’s in classrooms.
“How in the district do we vet books — not necessarily ban books — but vet books so they’re in the rights hands at the right time and with parental consent,” she said.