Missouri parents say school district 'stonewalled' them about 'naughty books' in school libraries

Unsplash/Jessica Ruscello
Unsplash/Jessica Ruscello

A group of concerned citizens in Missouri are accusing their local school district of misleading them about the presence of what they say are sexually explicit books in school libraries and keeping them in the dark about the process it undertakes to review such materials.

Seven concerned residents in the city of Cameron, part of the Kansas City Metropolitan area, are seeking to remove what they describe as "naughty books" from the Cameron R-1 School District. They have a combined eight children or grandchildren who attend schools in the district. 

The group has put together a Facebook page outlining their concerns with the material accessible to students in the school district's libraries. The page documents their interactions with school district officials. 

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After reviewing and retaining handfuls of books at the local middle and high schools, the school district maintains that it has followed Board of Education policy and is doing its best to give parents the authority to determine what books are accessible to their children while ensuring access to such books for students whose parents "desire a broader selection of materials."

Three of the group's members, Dan Landi, Heath Gilbert and Colleen Hardy, spoke with The Christian Post about their efforts and the roadblocks they encountered. Of the three, Gilbert is the only one with a child attending school in the district. 

'The naughty book list'

As a father of a child in high school, Gilbert first began inquiring about the presence of titles that made it onto "a naughty book list" circulating via email around the Kansas City area in September 2022.

"I went to the school district twice, asking how I could get into the library because I was concerned about the books I was seeing in the news, and they stonewalled me and wouldn't give me an answer," he said.

Gilbert recalled how "it was in February when Dan [Landi] learned of [an] online resource," allowing them to examine the contents of the school district's libraries without actually going there in person. The group ultimately discovered "85 books between three different schools, with a majority of them being in the high school."

Gilbert discussed the most concerning aspects of the books as "very graphic depictions that read like a textbook of acts of deviant sex, the normalization of sex outside of marriage, pedophilia" as well as "bestiality" and "the normalization of drugs" and "abortion."

He claimed that there are rape, graphic depictions of violence and "promotion of racist ideas" in some of the books. 

"Grooming is going on in the books," he contends.

The father expressed concern about "stories of grooming where the victim doesn't report it and ends up deep into frequent and deviant sex acts."

The book reviews

In response to concerns about the material available in the school district's libraries, book reviews of selections available at both Cameron Veterans Middle School and Cameron High School have commenced. 

The committee in charge of the book reviews, which consists of the high school principal, assistant principal, librarian, an English teacher and a parent from the district, has only reviewed five books in the Cameron High School library so far. Another five are currently under review.

"It took them three months to review five books," Gilbert lamented. "At that rate, we're going to be three to four years before they complete the review of the books that we have currently found." 

The committee voted 3-2 to retain all five books in the high school library with no restrictions. The committee also voted to allow the library at Cameron Veterans Middle School to retrain three books without restrictions while letting it retain one book with restrictions. 

One book at Cameron High School that the committee voted to retain, All Boys Aren't Blue by George Johnson, drew particular ire from those who spoke with CP.

"That book contains incest and same-sex relationships, the normalization of sex outside of wedlock and there's some drug use in there, and there's Marxist ideas that are pushed and racist ideas that are pushed," Landi asserted.

"In it, the boy is groomed as a young man by his cousin, told not to tell, and he does not tell," Gilbert stated. "They're putting this information in front of our kids. And at no point, by the way, have they told the public or the parents that this content is being made available to the kids and that the librarian is promoting it to the kids to give us the option to opt out. They were doing all this behind closed doors essentially.", which assigns ratings to books on a scale from 0-5 based on the amount of mature content in them, has given All Boys Aren't Blue a rating of "4," indicating that it contains "explicit sexual nudity" and "'obscene' references to sexual activities." suggests that books with ratings of "4" constitute "adult content" and that "no child under 18" should read them.

The website outlines the criteria it uses when assigning a rating of 0-5 to a particular book based on the amount of mature content it contains.
The website outlines the criteria it uses when assigning a rating of 0-5 to a particular book based on the amount of mature content it contains. | Dan Landi

Other books at the Cameron High School library given the green light by the committee include Juliet Takes a Breath andSpeak, both of which were given ratings of "3" by The website recommends that children younger than 18 receive "guidance of parent or guardian" before reading books with a "3" rating.

The remaining books on the list range fromGo Back to Sleep, which awarded a "0" rating, to Lucky, which received a rating of "5." 

An excerpt from Lucky provided to The Christian Post features a graphic description of a rape. It also includes an explicit description of male genitalia.

While books that receive ratings of "0" are deemed "appropriate for all ages," those awarded a "5" rating are labeled "aberrant content" and contain "explicit references to aberrant sexual activities," including "sexual assault/battery, bestiality, or sadomasochistic abuse." Most books on this list in the database received ratings of "3" or "4."

On the other hand, assigned other books the residents want reviewed, such as Cat Woman: Soul Stealer, Crown of Midnight, Heir of Fire, Rhymes With Witches andThrone of Glass, a "2" rating. 

At Cameron Veterans Middle School, the committee will allow the library to retrain three books without restrictions while letting it retain A Child Called It by David Peltzer with restrictions. gave A Child Called It a rating of "3." 

The other three books at Cameron Veterans Middle School subject to a book review — Ghost Boys, Lily and DunkinandPet — received a rating of "2." Books that receive a rating of "2" contain material that "may not be appropriate for children under 13," including "moderate violence, moderate hate, moderate profanity, non-sexual nudity involving genitalia, inexplicit sexual nudity/sexual activities, drug or alcohol use, explicit sexuality and explicit gender ideologies."

The way each member of the committee voted remains unknown to the public. Gilbert described the secrecy of the committee's vote as a "violation of the Missouri Sunshine Law," stressing that "this should be an open record and the vote should be public record." 

While the concerned citizens have submitted Sunshine Law requests, the school district has insisted that "the official committee's vote is not subject to our Sunshine Law," an assertion he characterized as "not true." The district later reversed course and promised that committee votes would be "public record" going forward.

Landi contends that the school district also violated another state law declaring that "a person commits the offense of providing explicit sexual material to a student if such a person is affiliated with a public or private elementary or secondary school in an official capacity and knowing of its content and character, such person provides, assigns, supplies, distributes, loans, or coerces acceptance of or the approval of the providing of explicit sexual material to a student."

Conflict of interest?

Landi raised his concerns about the books available in the school district's libraries in February. 

When he contacted the school district, he was told to "call each individual librarian because they're in charge of their own respective libraries." This prompted him to reach out to Cameron High School Librarian Tonya O'Boyle, whom he presented with the list of books and asked if any were in her library.

He claims she assured him that they don't have "anything like that" in the library. After his conversation with O'Boyle, he looked at the school's online catalog and found the books there.

"The librarian flat out lied to me on the phone and … the evidence is out there on their own website," he concluded.

A social media page belonging to Cameron High School Librarian Tonya O'Boyle promotes a book titled 'The Pride Guide: A Guide to Sexual and Social Health for LGBTQ+ Youth.'
A social media page belonging to Cameron High School Librarian Tonya O'Boyle promotes a book titled "The Pride Guide: A Guide to Sexual and Social Health for LGBTQ+ Youth." | Dan Landi

Upon investigating O'Boyle's social media, the group discovered that she was "using her personal Instagram account to push and promote books, a lot of it transgender stuff and same-sex stuff onto the students at the high school."

Gilbert detailed how she "uses hashtags like #BannedBooksWeek and offered rewards to the first student that can come in and tell her why a book is being banned or why it is being challenged to be banned." He also brought up her documentation of a display she put up in honor of LGBT pride month.

O'Boyle also appears to have played a role in bringing some of the books into the school library by reaching out to a nonprofit organization called Hope in a Box, which works to send "trans and race-affirming books to small rural libraries." Gilbert identified All Boys Aren't Blue as one of the 15 books the school received from Hope in a Box.

Librarian Tonya O'Boyle invites Cameron High School students to visit the library and tell her why a certain book has been banned as part of #BannedBookWeeks in a Sept. 26, 2018, social media post.
Librarian Tonya O'Boyle invites Cameron High School students to visit the library and tell her why a certain book has been banned as part of #BannedBookWeeks in a Sept. 26, 2018, social media post. | Dan Landi

Gilbert illustrated that school district policy "requires a panel of three individuals to recommend the books before they go to the superintendent for approval and purchase." He raised a concern that O'Boyle's presence on the committee constitutes a "conflict of interest" in light of her outspoken support for LGBT ideology on social media. He unsuccessfully requested that school district leadership replace her with another librarian, as the policy requires at least one of the committee members to be a librarian. 

The school district's response

In a statement to The Christian Post, Cameron R-1 School District Superintendent Matt Robinson defended his school district's actions regarding the book review process and responded to allegations that the district was violating state law by maintaining sexually explicit books in school libraries.

"The district has been in the process of reviewing books via our internal selection and reconsideration process set forth in board policy, in light of the concerns of patrons, bearing in mind not only the criteria in our policy but also the restrictions set forth under RSMo 573.550."

"The district has also utilized its book review committee process under Board of Education policy with regard to specific submitted concerns, but has temporarily suspended that process in order for the board to determine the best course of action for moving forward to ensure first, that parents and guardians have authority to determine what library materials are accessible to their own students, and second, how to ensure that the district is providing appropriate access for students whose parents desire a broader selection of materials," he added.

Members of the group voiced their concerns about the books available in the libraries throughout the Cameron R-1 School District at a Board of Education meeting in March, with Hardy reading aloud excerpts from Lucky and All Boys Aren't Blue. Gilbert told CP, "I think we had over 300 people that showed up at the Board of Education meeting."

"Predominantly, the folks there were concerned about the books," he said. "There [were] some folks that were OK with it, but the majority of people that were at that meeting were deeply concerned about the content that's being made available to our kids with our tax dollars."

Hardy said several parents thanked him for reading aloud "because they thought we were kind of just overacting."

"But after hearing what was in those books, they were very thankful that we were exposing this," he claims. 

Gilbert said the Board of Education implemented new rules at "the very meeting where we were addressing the Board of Education about our concerns in the books." Under the new board policy, "if a topic has been addressed to the board by a single individual, that topic cannot be broached again for another three months."

Landi tried to take his concerns about the books in Cameron School District libraries to statewide elected officials, including Missouri's Republican Attorney General Andrew Bailey and Missouri's Republican Gov. Mike Parson. 

Bailey responded to Landi by saying, "This office will monitor this situation and determine what actions would be available to us to protect students from obscene materials within schools."

Bailey also encouraged Landi to reach out to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which he did. 

"DESE sent me a letter and basically said that there's nothing they can do, that it's a local matter, we're supposed to take it up with our school board," he asserted. "Since my complaint was about the school board, they said they have no control over school boards. So, I would have to resolve this at the local level, which we've already tried to do unsuccessfully."

"At no point has our school district or any of our school board members made a public statement of any kind addressing the book issues," Gilbert declared.

What's next?

Gilbert pushed back on the narratives that opponents of sexually explicit material in public schools want to "ban books." 

"I have never said I want to ban books. I believe that the school district, or in this case, the librarian, is acting as a parent in deciding what content my child is going to be exposed to," Gilbert said. "I don't believe the school district or the librarian has that right. The power needs to be returned to the parents, and the parents given the power and the ability to decide what content is appropriate for their children."

Gilbert believes some books "should be restricted the same way we restrict alcohol, tobacco, tattoos, body piercing and firearms."

"These things should be age-appropriate, and the parent is the only one that is capable of truly determining if or when their child is ready for this type of content," he asserted. 

Landi vowed to continue his efforts: "We've got candidates in mind we'd like to run against some of these folks on the school board. … And then maybe we can turn the ship at that point. But … right now, we don't have any friendly people on the school board."

"The school board, they're not afraid of us, they don't respect us, they don't care about us," he maintained. "And until they feel some outside pressure, I don't think anything's going to change."

The next school board elections will take place in May when two of the seven members will be up for re-election.

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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