Independence School District bans book with nonbinary character

The district voted 6-1 last week to remove the book from its elementary school libraries
Published: Jul. 18, 2022 at 8:14 PM CDT
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INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (KCTV) - Young students in the Independence School District will no longer find Cats vs. Robots, Volume 1: This is War on the shelves this school year.

The district voted 6-1 last week to remove the book from its elementary school libraries.

Co-authors Margaret Stohl and Lewis Peterson said they were ‘sad’ and ‘shocked’ to learn their book was banned.

“It’s a funny, light-hearted book,” Peterson said. “It happens to feature a character that has an identity which is nonbinary. There’s no advocating of one side or the other. It’s merely the existence of a character.”

“We feel that no kid has an inappropriate identity,” Stohl said. “Kids need to see themselves on the shelves.”

In an email to district families and staff, the district said a parent expressed concern about the book in April. Per district policy, a nine-person committee then reviewed the book.

The district said the committee recommended to pull the book and the Board of Education approved the decision: “This was not a decision about content, rather whether a parent would have sufficient information to make a choice on appropriateness for their child.”

“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 email continued.

But opponents disagree.

Jay Ferguson is a freshman in the district. They came out as nonbinary in March.

“It’s basically saying that we don’t exist,” Jay said. “Telling kids that already have a crap-ton of problems that they don’t exist or that they’re not worth educating about, that’s stupid. You’re just asking for kids to be upset.”

“Sending out this email to all the parents saying, ‘Hey, these students are not included in our district for what we think is an icky reason’ – it’s just wrong,” said Jay’s mother Shawna Ferguson. “It’s discriminatory and it made me mad.”

“I fear it will have negative repercussions for my kid,” said Justin Ferguson, Jay’s father. “My kid has already had to put up with - in their current school - with being called a ‘f-word’ and teachers not really caring to do anything about it. I feel this just exacerbates that problem.”

The book is still allowed in middle school and high school libraries. The district said in a statement K-12 students are provided free library cards, so they can access any book at their local public library.