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Missouri officials criticize drag show attended by Columbia middle schoolers

A drag show seen by middle-school students in Columbia is drawing criticism from parents and state officials.

At the annual Columbia Values Diversity Breakfast, timed to be near the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, three members of the drag performance group Nclusion Plus put on a musical show as part of the festivities. The annual breakfast draws hundreds of attendees of various ages, and this year’s audience included about 30 middle-school aged students from Columbia Public Schools.

Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, tweeted that his office was “inundated with calls & emails re: grade school kids being forced to sit through a drag show” at the breakfast.

Gov. Mike Parson added to the criticism when his official Twitter account stated he was “deeply concerned about reports that Columbia middle school students were subjected to adult performers during what is historically a MLK Day celebration. This is unacceptable.”

Attorney General Andrew Bailey sent letters to the Columbia Public Schools and Columbia city officials accusing them of violating laws protecting children from sexually explicit material. He accused Superintendent Brian Yearwood and Mayor Barbara Buffaloe of working “actively to undermine Missouri’s laws by deliberately subjecting a group of middle-school students to an adult-themed drag show performance.”

Bailey suggested that the performance violated a law requiring parents to be notified of the content of human sexuality education and to be given a chance to opt out of that part of the curriculum. He also cited a new criminal statute making it class A misdemeanor to give explicit sexual material to a student.

Parent Tara Arnett, says she and other parents were not informed the Diversity Celebration would include a drag show. The mid-Missouri mother says her  13-year-old son has autism and is nonverbal.

“My son was invited by his school as a representative from the disability community,” she told Lake Expo. “I found out about the drag performances after other kids that were there reported back to parents.”

Arnett says she must monitor her son’s media consumption closely. “I don’t know what kind of impact the performances made on him, but I know I wasn’t given a say in the matter,” she says. When asked if she would have approved of her son attending if she would have known about the drag performance, she answered, “I wouldn’t have ok’d it.”

The problem, according to Senator Rowden, is that the Columbia Public Schools permission slips sent to parents asking that students be allowed to attend did not specifically say that a drag performance was part of the program. “If a parent sent their child to a diversity event without knowing that there was going to be a drag show there, I think there was a failure of communication somewhere,” he said. “So I’d like to figure out where that was.”

Columbia School District Superintendent Brian Yearwood defended the drag show in a letter to Parson.

“Any characterization of the Columbia Values Diversity Breakfast as ‘child endangerment’ or having a ‘sexual nature’ or violating state law is categorically false. Although CPS was unaware what the performance by Nclusion+ would entail, their program was not an ‘adult’ performance.

Social media posts are asking the Columbia School District to focus on teaching. The school’s reading proficiency is below that of the state average.

Parents continue to contact the District as of the publication of this article.

–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice

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