KPS statement on controversial books

Local4 News at 10
Published: Aug. 23, 2022 at 1:40 PM CDT
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KEARNEY, Neb. (KSNB) - In response to comments made Monday on an Omaha radio station by former U.S. Senate Candidate Matt Innis, Kearney Public Schools Tuesday issued a statement regarding controversial books about gender identity.

In the statement, KPS referred to comments made by Innis on Omaha radio station KFAB, in which he said that the books “Gender Queer” “It Feels Good to be Yourself” “Brave Face” and “Looking for Alaska” were available in Nebraska public schools including Kearney. The books refer to subject material about gender identity.

In its Tuesday statement, KPS said that the books “Gender Queer” and “It Feels Good to be Yourself” were not available in any KPS library. It did say however that there was one copy of “Brave Face” at Kearney High School. There were five copies of the book “Looking for Alaska” at Kearney High School and one copy of the same book at the Hanny Arram Center of Success.

The statement went on to say that the district has an obligation to serve students in the LBGTQ community and that the district has a library use policy which allows parents to to determine if they want their children to read certain books.

The full statement from superintendent Jason Mundorf, released earlier Tuesday to parents in the KPS district is as follows,

“Dear KPS Stakeholders:

It came to my attention yesterday morning that on Scott Voorhees’s morning show aired on KFAB 1110, Matt Innis, a Crete resident and political hopeful, was asked a series of questions regarding the book “Gender Queer.” This book is at the center of some recent Twitter posts between Jane Kleeb and a member of the Nebraska GOP which removed the Twitter response to Mrs. Kleeb. In the book, there is a sexually explicit picture that was the basis of the graphic tweet, and Mr. Innis was asked about the book. After some back and forth with the host, Mr. Innis also read some excerpts from a different book “Looking for Alaska” and stated that book was housed at Kearney High School and the Hanny Arram Center for Success along with many other districts in Nebraska. Furthermore, Mr. Innis also went on to make a brief mention of the book “Brave Face” and “It Feels Good to Be Yourself.” Mr. Innis discussed the proposed recommended reading levels of the book and made listeners question whether or not these books were in their local public schools and to which students they were available.

After a quick review with our media professionals, the book " Gender Queer” is not in publication in any Kearney Public School library, nor is the book “It Feels Good to Be Yourself”. The book Brave Face has one copy at Kearney High School, and the book “Looking for Alaska’' has five copies at Kearney High School and one copy at the Hanny Arram Center for Success. While many will argue the value of these books to young readers, the fact of the matter is Kearney Public Schools serves a number of students in the LGBTQ community. We have students who are facing internal questions regarding their gender and sexual identity. These books can provide a context by which some student readers can identify with someone (even if it’s a fictional character) who has had similar struggles. We try to support all students as these “issues” can be at the heart of social-emotional, mental health struggles for many young people.

Our district employs incredibly thoughtful and passionate media specialists who review titles on an annual basis to provide books which are of interest to young readers and reflective of the challenges students often face. These media specialists are hard-working professionals who make their media centers a source of learning for all students, not a place of political ideologies or a subversive progressive movement. They are likely people you attend church or socialize with in your personal gatherings. They have thoughtful conversations and review of materials that are selected to be in our libraries. They make difficult decisions to appropriately provide books for young readers while navigating political discussions and gaslighting from individuals who may or may not have all of the correct information.

Kearney Public Schools is incredibly supportive of parents and your rights to determine what materials your children have access to. We have a well-defined Library Use Policy that affords parents the opportunity to determine if they would like to be contacted and give consent prior to their children checking out books from the school libraries. This policy is a direct reflection of a proactive effort by Kearney Public Schools to have transparency with their parents and afford them the opportunity to choose which materials they would like their children to read, or not read. To our knowledge, we are one of the only districts in the state that employ this policy to meet the needs of our parents.

Our district also gives parents and stakeholders the opportunity to contest materials selected for our libraries through board policies and processes. If you feel the district should remove a title from one of our libraries, parents can initiate that process with a formal written complaint to the school principal. A review committee will look at the complaint and make a decision regarding the request for removal. Appeal processes are also provided through the Superintendent and the Board of Education.

This is a challenging time for students, schools, staff, and parents. We remain committed in Kearney Public Schools to provide appropriate and needed resources for all of our students to navigate their educational journeys. We e do this in conjunction with our parents offering them the chance to be involved in determining what they want their children to read. Parental involvement and voice are core foundations to the educational process and we will continue to do our best to tailor to all of our families.


Jason Mundorf