Public radio from Western Michigan University 102.1 NPR News | 89.9 Classical WMUK
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A West Michigan school librarian says the district pulled a book against its own rules

Jerod Kauffman in a black t-shirt holds a copy of the book "Gender Queer: A Memoir" by Maia Kobabe in his home in Kalamazoo.
Leona Larson
Jerod Kauffman in his Kalamazoo home holds the reporter's copy of "Gender Queer: A Memoir" by Maia Kobabe. A parent complained the book wasn't appropriate in the high school library where Kauffman works.

Someone complained about the book, which is in the collection at the Galesburg-Augusta High School library. The superintendent denies the district broke its rules.

To Galesburg-Augusta High School librarian Jerod Kauffman, when somebody complains about a book, the district's policy is clear. The book stays on the shelf while the district reviews it.

Kauffman said that’s not what happened earlier this month. A parent at another school, who is also a teacher at the middle school, complained that the graphic memoir “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe was too sexually explicit. Kauffman said contested books are supposed to stay on the shelves while a committee investigates them.

But instead of appointing a review committee to make a recommendation to the district superintendent, Kauffman said the principal was told to pull the book from the shelf. Kauffman said both the principal and the superintendent then asked him to make a list of titles with similar content.

In an interview with WMUK, Superintendent Wendy Maynard-Somers said no one told Kauffman to make a list. She said the book was "checked out," though she also used the word "pulled," so administrators could review it.

In a meeting with the principal and the superintendent last week, Kauffman said he expressed concern that the policy wasn’t being followed. He said the superintendent said the school board can void a policy.

“I got told they're superseding board policy and they're getting, to me it sounds like they're getting, like it's getting rid of the book,” Kauffman said.

“If you're getting told they're superseding board policy, the decisions been made, the book’s gone. And that's not fair to anybody; not to students and not to the community that voted those board members in.”

Maynard-Somers said in asking about similar books, she just wanted to be sure there were other titles available on that topic for interested students to read. She said "Gender Queer" hasn’t been banned or removed.

“The superintendent does not have the right just to remove a book, and that has not what happened,” Maynard-Somers said. “And I made that very clear to Jarod. That is not what's happening.

"It's pulled so that several of us can take a look at it who are having, especially when you have, you know (pause). Honestly, nobody has said the pictures are horrendous. I've had a couple of people say they feel like they're pornographic.”

Maynard-Somers said the district will form a review committee after spring break, which ends on March 31.

Kauffman said he’d be disappointed if the committee decides to remove the book permanently but he respects the process if the district follows the written policy. He said he came forward to ensure the community has a say in the final decision even if speaking out costs him his job.

“If a book is removed from the library because of one person's complaint, that means somebody who might need that book or story can't read it. So, the more I thought about it, the more I'm like, yeah, this is the hill I want to die on.”

The district will likely consider the future of the graphic memoir and whether it should stay on the shelves at the next school board meeting on April 17.

Leona has worked as a journalist for most of her life - in radio, print, television and as journalism instructor. She has a background in consumer news, special projects and investigative reporting.