BELTON, Texas — Belton ISD Superintendent Matt Smith weighed in on the controversial banned book display that's causing a stir at one of its schools, saying he is not in favor or banning books "arbitrarily," nor is he interested in having "obscene material" easily accessible to students.
"I am interested in ensuring our actions and materials align with the values that make this community strong," he said in a letter he sent out to parents Friday morning.
Earlier this week, 6 News reported about a Belton ISD librarian who went viral on TikTok after she posted a video on her personal account, miawilson3, where she expressed concern about being fired over a parent who reportedly complained about her banned book display to her principal. It contained books like "Hunger Games," "Bridge to Terabithia," "Lord of the Flies," "Beyond Magenta" and "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" for Banned Book Week in September.
"I told him no, I was not taking it down because I serve over 700 students and not one student alone," she said in the video that now has over 1.3 million views." Celebrating Banned Books Week is in our [American Library Association] standards, as well as what every secondary library does in our school district."
She said she refused to take down the display per the request of her principal.
"It's not about taking away parent autonomy," she said in the video. "Your kid definitely doesn't have to read those books. However, this is an opportunity to bring awareness and information and knowledge to kids."
"We're calling attention to it with this event like come see the Banned Books Week and that's really sad if that's what it takes to get kids engaged with literature," parent Hillary Hickland told 6 News earlier this week. "I think we can go about it in a better way than trying to celebrate controversy. I'm not a book burner, but we're not talking about public libraries. We're talking about our school libraries, and we're talking about children who are really impressionable and really vulnerable."
In his letter to parents, Smith said the school board has been addressing book bans at meetings over the past year. He added that it wasn't until this summer when the state released guidelines.
"I know they want what is good and right for the students, families, and staff of Belton ISD," he said.
He also said he wants the district to follow state and federal laws that apply to library books in Texas.
"I believe those items should be our guide," he wrote. "Specifically, the permanent removal of books from library shelves without a strong process would be a legal mistake."
Smith continued to say he believes parents should be able to voice their concerns and oversee what kind of materials their children are reading or checking out from libraries. That is why, for the first time ever, Belton ISD opened up resources to allow parents to monitor what their children read or check out of the libraries.
"New this year, you can log in to Destiny and view your child's library history to see what books your child has checked out," he wrote as a reminder to parents. "You can also view the entire library catalog."
The district has also set up a five-member committee that includes a parent, teacher, campus administrator and librarian to take further action of reviewing books if someone formally requests for one to be pulled from district library shelves.
"If material on the shelves is challenged as obscene, I want to be able to take that out of circulation while a proper review of the book can be addressed," he wrote. "In addition, if a library book is more appropriate for a different grade level, I want to have a system that can address that."
The status of the librarian's employment is not known at this time.