Citing fear and loathing as greater threats to Columbia Public School (CPS) students than the widely-reported drag show at the Columbia Values Diversity breakfast January 19, school board candidate James Gordon blamed a nationwide wave of "reactionary politics" for the negative reaction that has reached the Missouri statehouse and beyond.
Frequently noting her status as a veteran CPS parent -- "my kids started at CPS in Kindergarten and went all the way through senior year" -- fellow candidate April Ferrao said "it never crossed my mind that my school would take my child to an event that would not be allowed in the actual school during the school day. For example, they would not take my six-year-old to a Call of Duty gaming competition."
Gordon and Ferrao were among the six featured school board candidates at the Columbia Board of Realtors Mark Farnen candidate forum January 24. The evening's first question: What is your reaction to the reaction of parents, taxpayers, and lawmakers to the drag show?
At least thirty Columbia middle and elementary school students attended the show as an officially-sanctioned CPS field trip, but without their parents' informed consent.
"It's important to say, right out of the gate, that drag does not hurt kids," Gordon told the forum audience. "Transphobia, homophobia, misogyny -- these are the things that can hurt our kids. All the fear mongering that some our political elites in Jefferson City and beyond are willing to engage in to raise their profile in a dunk on our schools -- that hurts kids, too. That's the kind of harm I'm most concerned about."
Ferrao stuck to the parental consent issue.
"I understand parents' concerns. All they heard was that there was a show that happened," Ferrao said. "They weren't there, they didn't see what it was. Once parents started questioning, it was poorly handled. There could have been more transparency and more forthrightness as to CPS' involvement in planning the event, what their involvement was, and an explanation to parents what the event contained."
The controversy went national when the Libs of Tiktok site ran video of the performance.
"We are talking about reactionary politics, which is happening everywhere in our civic spaces," Gordon said. "It's a HUGE distraction from the things in our schools that we really need to attend to."
Ferrao saw little that would dissuade her from signing a field trip permission slip if she knew what she was signing. The only element of an R or X-rated adult-level show at the breakfast, for instance, was drag performers taking dollar bills from audience members.
"Frankly, everything that was at the event was something that you would see, could see in any of our schools," Ferrao said. "There's nothing that prohibits any of it in any of our handbooks."
Gordon, meanwhile, wondered what the students thought.
"I haven't heard from anybody who actually talked to the kids about how they experienced it," he said. "I might have missed it, but when this happened, I set my Facebook account to the side because I had better things to do, like being present for my own children."
The election is April 4.