Superheroes banned from KU daycare, but drag queen story hour gets a thumbs up

LAWRENCE – Drag queens are okay at KU’s Hilltop Child Development Center day care, but not superheroes.

Management at the University of Kansas campus daycare center which bans superhero regalia among its students planned a Drag Queen Story Hour on Wednesday evening for the children who attend the center, but apparently didn’t want to answer questions from the Informer about the event at the KU-funded facility. 

Superhero shirts and other regalia are forbidden at Hilltop Center for Child Development on the KU campus because management doesn’t want impressionable youngsters emulating them, but it scheduled a drag queen for a story hour event Wednesday evening./Marvel Comics art

An unidentified man who answered the phone accused the Informer of “not being truthful about who you are,” and refused to provide budget information on the center before hanging up.

Center director Jeremy Fite did not return emails from the Informer seeking comment, and phone messages were not returned. Nor were answers received from Hilltop board president Jaclyn Biggs or any of the organization’s board members.

Hilltop Center For Child Development Director Jeremy Fite/Hilltop photo

A post from the Hilltop Child Development Center on the center’s Twitter (X) account invited the public to the Wednesday evening event, which it said was co-hosted by KU’s Center for Sexuality and Gender Diversity and promised a book reading by local drag artist “Rose.” The center would also pass out stickers after the event, according to the post.

The move raised the ire of opponents like Michelle Eagleman, a Lawrence home school advocate.

“I know people who have withdrawn their children from Hilltop because of this type of thing,” Eagleman said. ”Hilltop used to have a great reputation and waiting lists.” She said the Kansas Board of Regents needed to be aware of these types of activities at KU, and parents needed to act as well.

“Parents need to put their foot down and be the adults in the room,” she said.  “I don’t think it’s education or indoctrination.  I believe it is evil precisely because it destroys innocence.”

“The people who dress in drag can do so in adult venues. To do so in front of children and read them books that are thinly-disguised sexualization is perverted,” Eagleman said.

Representative Steven Howe, who chairs the Higher Education Budget Committee in the Kansas House, said such instances were bad optics for Kansas institutions and that university management needed to step up.

“This a terrible image for our state’s flagship university,” Howe said. “Drag Story Hour should not be normalized, especially with vulnerable and impressionable kids. I call on leadership at KU to use its voting position on Hilltop’s Board of Directors to set a policy that adheres to a higher standard, or to completely disassociate the affiliation.”

“Whether it is embedding DEI in athletic departments or having drag-story hour at the Hilltop Child Development Center (which is considered a “controlled affiliate of KU”), it is time for our state universities to take responsibility for what they promote, and time to get back to their core mission,” Howe said.  

 Hilltop Is a 501c3 non-profit that in 2023 received some $213,000 from the University in general and restricted funds as well as maintenance and scholarships for children to attend. It serves the children of KU faculty, staff and students, as well as children unaffiliated with the university. According to ProPublica, its IRS 990 tax form for the year 2023 showed $3.5 million in revenues, a jump from the $2.9 million reported in 2022. More than 90% of its revenues came from program services the daycare center provides, although donations surged from $121,500 in 2022 to $398,555 in 2023. Net income for the center increased from $237,506 in 2022 to $589,283 last year.

KU’s website says Hilltop was established in the Wesley Building behind Smith Hall in August 1972 after protests led by the “February Sisters” – women protesting gender inequality and lack of daycare on campus who occupied the East Asian Studies building – demanded better campus services for women, including child care. Hilltop operates in an 18,000-square-foot facility opened in August 2000 south of Burge Union at a cost of $3.3 million in August 2000 to offer daycare and educational programs for toddlers through sixth-graders. In summer 2009, construction was completed on the second of two new wings. Student fees and university funds largely funded the new facilities, which increased enrollment by about 85 pupils, the website says.

“Hilltop is an inclusive community where children learn from passionate professionals in a nurturing and academically rich environment,” the daycare’s website says. The site says Hilltop “is considered a controlled affiliate of KU. This means that we are connected to the university through Student Affairs and a negotiated management agreement. KU has a voting position on our Board of Directors….Hilltop employees are not state employees. All employees report to the Executive Director and the Executive Director reports to the board.”

“The Rose Champagne,” a Lawrence-area drag performer./Instagram

The website says Hilltop is certified by the NAEYC – the National Association for the Education of Young Children, a “national accreditation that has a significantly high bar for early childhood centers,” and says it is the only such accredited facility in Douglas County.

And while drag queens and garish, sexualized costumed representations of women are apparently endorsed by Hilltop, crime-fighting superheroes combating global evil are verboten, according to state policy on Hilltop’s website.

“Hilltop has had a longstanding policy of no ‘superheroes’ in our early childhood rooms,” the FAQ section of the website explains. ”This is in place because our young children struggle with separating fiction from reality. Our goal is to create a safe environment for all children. We don’t want to have materials that glorify or highlight the violence that occurs within the superhero genre. Our children try and mimic behaviors of these characters which is unsafe for peers.”

The Hilltop announcement follows other gender dysphoria-related controversies in the Kansas. The Republican-led Kansas Legislature in the recent session failed by a single vote to overturn Governor Laura Kelly’s veto of a bill that would have banned doctors from performing sex change surgeries and chemical procedures in the state. Last year legislators overrode a Kelly veto on a ban against men in women’s sports. In 2022 election-year controversy arose when Kansas Department of Commerce funds went to the promoters of a drag show event in Wichita.

Dane Hicks is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and the United States Marine Corps Officer Candidate School at Quantico, VA. He is the author of novels "The Skinning Tree" and "A Whisper For Help." As publisher of the Anderson County Review in Garnett, KS., he is a recipient of the Kansas Press Association's Boyd Community Service Award as well as more than 60 awards for excellence in news, editorial and photography.

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