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Ban discussion: Kearney School Board denies 2 book ban requests

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Kearney High School sign

Two books that citizens had asked to be banned will remain on the shelves at Kearney High School.

School librarians across Missouri are pulling books from shelves as they face the potential for criminal charges under a new state law that was passed at the end of August 2022.

KEARNEY — Two books that citizens had asked to be banned will remain on the shelves at Kearney High School.

In both cases, the citizens who requested that the books be banned had not read the books, according to discussion at Tuesday’s Kearney Public Schools Board of Education meeting.

After about 30 minutes of discussion, the KPS Board voted unanimously to keep the books at the high school.

One of the books, “Empire of Storms,” is the fifth installment in a science fiction series that follows a female hero’s journey to the throne. The other book, “Crank,” examines how a teen ruined her life with methamphetamine addiction.

Although neither of the individuals who asked that the books be banned from KHS had read the books in their entirety, board member Alex Straatmann said he read “Empire of Storms,” and he moved to deny the citizen appeal.

“There is some sensitive material, but this is a book that’s marketed to young adults,” Straatmann said. “This is not a book that’s mandated to read.”

Board member Drew Blessing seconded Straatmann’s motion, and the board voted 6-0 to keep “Empire of Storms” in the KHS library.

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Board member Kathy Gifford moved to keep “Crank.” Steve Gaasch seconded the motion, and the board cast another 6-0 vote to keep the book.

“It disturbs me that the people who filed the complaint didn’t read either book,” Gaasch said. Referring to “Crank,” he said it’s an artful piece that in no way romanticizes drug addiction. “I would welcome my daughter to bring that book home, so I could talk about it with her.”

Blessing shared his impressions of “Crank,” which tells how a 17-year-old girl becomes addicted to meth.

“It upsets me that this book is challenged,” Blessing said. “You should know what you’re challenging.”

Jason Mundorf

Mundorf

KPS Superintendent Jason Mundorf said that five other books at the KHS library have been challenged, so the board will be weighing if any of those books should be banned. The board is not acting in a vacuum as it debates the merits of books that some citizens feel are inappropriate for high schoolers. Mundorf said an 11-member volunteer book review committee is assisting the board. The volunteers are professionals from fields such as youth ministers, psychologists, educators and others who are familiar with issues and challenges young people encounter. Mundorf said that to protect committee members’ safety, they function anonymously.

Identities also were secret for the citizens who complained that “Empire of Storms” and “Crank” should be banned.

Straatmann said he wants each book ban request to receive a fair hearing, but reading, reviewing and discussing each book is time consuming. Board member Dave Brandt agreed.

“These reviews are taxing,” he said.

Books are mind-expanding, Gaasch said. “Literature should make you want to grow.”

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