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‘I admit that I masturbate’: Kansas State Board of Education member laments ‘smut’ in libraries

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‘I admit that I masturbate’: Kansas State Board of Education member laments ‘smut’ in libraries

Sep 14, 2023 | 10:52 am ET
By Rachel Mipro
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‘I admit that I masturbate’: Kansas State Board of Education member laments ‘smut’ in libraries
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Kansas State Board of Education member Danny Zeck, right, wants fellow BOE members to examine library materials in Kansas schools. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Kansas State Board of Education member Danny Zeck quoted from the much-debated teen book “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” as he turned a state meeting on book removal practices into a ideological discussion of why “smut,” as he calls these books, is allowed in local schools.

“I admit that I masturbate,” Zeck said, quoting from the book.

The Leavenworth Republican alternately cursed, waved books he objected to, and raised concerns about the “Marxist lesbian” in charge of the American Library Association during a Kansas State Board of Education meeting Tuesday, as other board members tried to redirect the conversation.

Zeck, who campaigned for his position on a platform of parental authority, said he was worried schools weren’t being transparent about teaching materials that might be objectionable.

He brought examples of “smut,” including “My Princess Boy,” a children’s book about a boy who prefers feminine things, and “Rick,” a book about an asexual middle schooler. Zeck said these books could be found in Kansas school libraries.

“If the parents are OK with my word, ‘smut,’ then I’m OK with that,” Zeck said. “But I like the parents to know ahead of time that No. 1, that this stuff’s in our library, and No. 2, that we could be reading that to your child that’s in second grade.”

Republican board member Dennis Hershberger also spoke against what he called “pornography” for students.

Zeck raised his points to Angela Stallbaumer, deputy director and general counsel of the Kansas Association of School Boards, during her presentation on local school district practices for book bans and removals. KASB recommends local school board policies on library collection processes and best practices for school material collections.

The policies focus on local-level controls, such as having concerned parents voice concerns to the teacher or library, before moving to higher-level school action. Stallbaumer also outlined opt-out procedures for parents to remove their children from lessons or readings they find objectionable.

She told Zeck the practices, which have been in place for about 20 years, had served the state well.

The board’s attorney, Mark Ferguson, asked Zeck to move away from the discussion.

“I would just direct the discussion away from some attack about a particular book and one individual view,” Ferguson said. “… You’ve made your point multiple times, and our guest today has attempted in a polite way to answer your question.”

BOE chairwoman Melanie Haas asked members to refocus on policies and procedures for instructional materials.

A few moments later, Zeck appears to say under his breath: “You’re full of sh*t.”

Haas responds: “Danny, if you have a question, you’re next on my list.”

He later apologized, telling his fellow members he sometimes gets emotional.

Board member Jim Porter, a Fredonia Republican, said he didn’t want to accuse teachers and librarians of exposing children to inappropriate material.

“I believe that the vast majority of the people that are presenting information to our students are conscientious people that want to do what’s best for kids,” Porter said.

Board member Michelle Dombrosky, an Olathe Republican, said the discussion should begin at the local level. Dombrosky said she had opted her 15-year-old out of reading a book she wasn’t sure about after speaking with school officials.

“I just want to make sure parents are exercising their right and going to the teacher, and then if they need to exercise that right, to the principal,” Dombrosky said.

The 10-seat board, which is filled by seven Republicans and three Democrats, shifted further right following the last election. In recent months, the change has sparked more frequent debates over national hot-button education topics around gender and sexuality.

Decisions about school curricula and library materials are left to local school boards, not decided at the state level.