A citizen distressed about lewd books in school libraries was immediately gaveled down during public comments to the Lee’s Summit, Mo. school board, and was promptly escorted out of the meeting by security Thursday.
Afterward, a Kansas City Star editorial warned of book-banning “conservative culture warriors,” calling them “finger-wagging busybodies” – seeming to imply parents and patrons have no personal interest in what goes on in public schools.
The newspaper characterized Chuck Quesenberry’s concern as part of a “crusade” that is “absurd as it is pointless,” describing it as nothing more than “noisy, moralizing demands for censorship.”
In truth, the mild-mannered real estate broker never mentioned banning anything. And he could barely start excerpting a book before school board President Kathryn Campbell gaveled him down, appearing to read from a ready-made statement and ordering him escorted out by a security officer.
Her stated objection to his comments was the use of profanity, which she said was against board meeting policy. Yet he hadn’t said a profane word – and audience members quickly reminded the board that he was about to read an excerpt from a book in the district’s own libraries.
“They knew what was coming,” Quesenberry said. “I hadn’t even said a cuss word; I hadn’t even used profanity at all. And they cut my mic and told me I couldn’t talk anymore.
“Of course, everybody in the room went crazy. Here I am, I can’t read a paragraph or two from a book that a 14-year-old can check out. And it was all adults in the room. I had asked parents to take the children out of the room – which the board had a problem with, too.
“I can’t read to this group of adults what a 14-year-old can check out in your libraries? It just doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Quesenberry attempted to read from the book All Boys Aren’t Blue, but all he could get out of his mouth before being told to stop was, “He reached his hand down and he pulled out …”
The audience erupted in protest at the board president’s silencing of Quesenberry, reminding the board that the book was being proffered to students. The audience exhorted a reluctant Quesenberry to continue reading it over the objections of the board president – which he finally started to, before agreeing to be escorted out.
He’s pro-law enforcement, he said, and didn’t want to put the security officer in the position of having to handcuff him.
He said he wasn’t unruly, as the newspaper editorial called him – while it also complained the citizens group he heads, We the People of Jackson County, is “a local group known to kick up dust.”
“All the dust we kick up are sensible questions,” Quesenberry said. “I mean, we’re wanting what’s best for everybody. We want what’s best for the community; we want what’s best for Jackson County.”
The newspaper, despite supporting the Black Lives Matter protests after the death of George Floyd, nonetheless called Quesenberry’s short, calm speech “provocative.”
“What does that even mean? I wanted to read a book that they approved. Is that provocative?” he asked.
In prefacing his remarks about the “pornographic” books he said were approved by five current school board members, Quesenberry noted that Lee’s Summit public school enrollment and achievement are lagging, even while the community grows.
“The grades in Lee’s Summit are going down. Lee’s Summit is 500 students less right now than they were three years ago,” he told The Lion.
Asked if he thought salacious books in schools were contributing to that, Quesenberry said, “I think a lot of things that are happening in Lee’s Summit schools are affecting enrollment. Why would there be 500 fewer students in a town that’s growing? We’ve got to get to the bottom of it all.”
Quesenberry said he didn’t expect to change the minds of board members – only to inform the public. He said his We the People group was shocked to find out what students were reading.
“I just wanted to inform all the Mama Bears and Papa Bears in Lee’s Summit that there’s pornography in the schools. They don’t even know. Trust me, they don’t know.”
Despite being silenced by the board president, Quesenberry said his brief appearance before the board, and video of it, have caused a stir.
“Thursday night has been sent a lot of places. It even got sent to Tucker Carlson. My phone hasn’t stopped ringing. My text messages haven’t stopped. Facebook hasn’t stopped. We’ve gotten, like, 75 new members at We the People in the last four days.”
Quesenberry said he’s not going away, as much as his school board and local newspaper might like him to.
What happens now?
“Well, if I told you everybody would know,” he said. “We’ve got lots of meetings planned. We’ve got lots going on.”
–By Michael Ryan, Executive Editor of The Lion. A Kansas City native, he’s been an award-winning reporter, editor and opinion writer at newspapers in Kansas, Missouri, Georgia and Texas. Read The Lion or visit the Herzog Foundation. Reprinted with permission.