COLUMBIA, Mo. (KMIZ)
In response to statewide backlash, Columbia Public Schools superintendent sent an open letter to Gov. Mike Parson about a field trip some students attended that included a drag performance.
Parson is among several Republican Missouri politicians who spoke out Friday about CPS's field trip to Columbia's Annual "Columbia Values Diversity" Breakfast. The Thursday event put on by the city included a 15-minute drag performance from NClusion+.
"We are 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," Parson wrote on Twitter.
About 30 Columbia Public Schools students attended the event, according to CPS spokesperson Michelle Baumstark. Parents were required to fill out a permission slip, copies of which have been posted to social media. ABC 17 News is working to get a copy of the slip.
The letter from Superintendent Brian Yearwood was sent to parents and employees as well as the addressed governor. Yearwood said he is offering clarification and correcting misinformation.
In the letter, Yearwood wrote that the school district's participation in the event is limited to the writing portion honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Yearwood said it is a misconception that the performance was grooming the students in attendance.
"Although CPS was unaware what the performance by NClusion+ would entail, their program was not an 'adult' performance," Yearwood wrote. "This type of misrepresentation is harmful to our students, our staff, and our community."
Yearwood said only two parents of students in attendance reached out to complain. Among them is Tara Arnett, whose eighth-grade son is nonverbal autistic. Arnett told ABC 17 on Friday she spoke with the principal, but today Arnett said she'd like to receive more communication from the district.
"I will remind you also - while other middle school parents can have a two way conversation with their students about what was seen and why - I CANNOT due to my son’s disability," Arnett wrote.
In recent years, drag performances became a divisive issue as Republicans and conservatives criticize events featuring drag performers that cater to children. The issue is part of a broader culture war that includes battles over other LGBTQ+ issues, including how transgender student-athletes compete.