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Belton ISD librarian goes viral on TikTok over banned book display complaint

Belton ISD officials said the books in the viral video haven't been formally challenged or banned by the district. Even so, the books don't sit right with parents.

BELTON, Texas — A Belton ISD librarian went viral on TikTok after she posted a video about being told to take down her "banned book" display because of a parent complaint.

Last Tuesday, a day before the first day of school, user miarwilson posted a video on the popular social media platform, which has garnered over 1 million views as of Monday night. In it, she explained how she was approached by her principal over the display and how she was worried that she'll get fired because she refused to take it down. 

"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. "Celebrating Banned Books Week is in our [American Library Association] standards, as well as what every secondary library does in our school district."

She continued to say the principal requested she keep things "academic," to which she also told him "no."

"Would you like me to take down 10 library displays that are not academic because I've got one on superheroes and I'm pretty sure there's no standard on that," she said.

She continue to explain there was a process in place at Belton ISD where the parent should talk to her first before going to the principal because of it falling under her area of expertise.

"It's not about taking away parent autonomy," she stressed 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."

In a later video, miarwilson shared to viewers what the display looked like, which consisted of posters saying "banned books week" was Sept. 18 to Sept. 24 and how students could win a free book if they read two of the books on the banned/challenged book list. 

It also displayed a series of physical copies of the books. Some of the books in the display include "Hunger Games," "Bridge to Terabithia," "Lord of the Flies," "Beyond Magenta" and "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret."

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@miarwilson3

im painfully aware of the irony of being asked to take down a banned books display #librarybooktok

♬ original sound - Mia | books + lifestyle

Officials with Belton ISD told 6 News the books that are in the viral book display have not been formally challenged or banned within the district. Even so, the books still don't sit right with many parents.

"They're not quietly on a shelf, they're displayed, promoted, advertised and in some cases, they're actually incentivized," said Hillary Hickland, a concerned parent.

Hickland and other parents attended Belton ISD's scheduled board meeting Monday night to address book policies and current books on BISD shelves during a public comment session.

"I'm here for awareness of the harmful material that is in our schools, particularly sexually explicit and age inappropriate material," she said.

Concerned Belton parents and grandparents say they have asked the district to pull books before the display went viral. But, the display with historically known banned or challenged books goes too far for Hickland.

"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," she said. "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."

Data from the the ALA shows challenges mostly happen in school libraries and are primarily initiated by parents.

As book bans remain a hot topic across the country in schools, Dr. Deanna Lovesmith with Belton ISD says parents should be involved.

"Where we stand in Belton is we are about each and every student and so what we recognize is we have 14,000 students, and we have families with vastly different values and beliefs and so that's why we really focus on a partnership with each parents," the assistant superintendent of teaching and learning explained.

For the first time ever, BISD has opened up resources for parents to monitor what their students read. The district has also set up a committee made up of parents, teachers, campus administrators and librarians to take further action of reviewing books if someone formally requests for one to be pulled from the shelves of BISD libraries.

Lovesmith says if there are certain books or authors you don't want your child to read, then you can contact your librarian and they can ensure your student doesn't get their hands on them.

"We just want parents to have comfort and knowing that as a parent, you have a say in what your child can read and what you don't want them to read," Lovesmith added. "That really starts with a great conversation with your child but, when you want to go beyond to your own parent rights and you want to dictate maybe what access any child will have, that's when we go through a more formal process."

Hickland and other parents at the board meeting Monday night say they want more to be done and sooner.

"It's really not an adequate response in my opinion," Hickland said. "Like in the meantime, can we just pull these books until we come up with a process and then decide what to do about it?"

Meanwhile, students of Belton Middle School have started a petition in support of the librarian, asking that the book display be allowed to stay in place. They hope to get a couple hundred signatures then will turn it into the principal. If the principal takes down the display, the students will stage a walkout, according to the petition.

Belton ISD said they could not comment on personnel matters related to the librarian in connection with the viral TikToks.

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