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KPS Changes Course, Says Book Program Will Include LGBTQ, Disability And Other Themes

A room full of people who are looking to the left out of the frame
Sehvilla Mann

Kalamazoo Public Schools is reversing a controversial decision to leave books focusing on certain identities out of a reading initiative. The district is also apologizing for a statement that caused a public outcry.

Earlier this month, two concerned parents spoke to the school board. They’d heard that an effort to diversify KPS elementary classroom libraries would not include LGBTQ-centered books.

KPS confirmed that on Tuesday in a letter to WMUK. The district said the present program would focus only on racial and ethnic diversity, and would also leave out themes of disability and economic status.

The letter quickly drew condemnation from some parents, teachers, students and other community members. KPS issued a second statement Wednesday, and at a packed Board meeting Thursday, the district made it clear that its position had changed.

President Patti Sholler-Barber said KPS' initial statement was “poorly worded.”

“On behalf of the Board of Education, I sincerely apologize. Heartfelt. Let me emphasize that. We sincerely apologize,” she said.

At the meeting, which ran about three hours, roughly two dozen people told the Board they supported a more inclusive program. Some said that books with LGBTQ representation made all the difference to them, or would have made all the difference to them, when they were young. Several said that KPS’ statement turned identity into a zero-sum game.

Dawn Wright says her son goes to a KPS elementary and has a disability. Wright says he comes home every day saying he doesn’t fit in.

“There are not reflections of him in his classroom library. There are very few, and none which are appropriate, in the school library. So to say we’re going to exclude any subset is appalling,” she said.

Many of the program’s supporters agreed it should be more inclusive. But they also said it centered race for a reason.

"What I want to focus on tonight is the fact that 80 percent of the books that children of color have access to are about white people, cats, dogs or other things. That’s a big deal," Trustee TiAnna Harrison said. 

More than 6 in 10 KPS students are from a racial or ethnic minority. 

Sehvilla Mann joined WMUK’s news team in 2014 as a reporter on the local government and education beats. She covered those topics and more in eight years of reporting for the Station, before becoming news director in 2022.
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