Special to the Journal
The Belton Independent School District is striving to provide exceptional learning experiences for each and every student, even as its student population approaches 14,000.
“Our district is growing, and we inevitably have families with vastly different values and beliefs,” Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Deanna Lovesmith said. “We believe that it is important to create opportunities for every parent to partner with us in their child’s education.”
Library books in public schools are a hot topic in communities across the state.
Belton ISD is working to balance passionate and polarized opinions on the issue.
One way BISD is doing so is by increasing parent access to instructional materials. Last month, the district shared a new portal where parents can log in and view their child’s library history, see what books their child has checked out and explore the entire library catalog.
“Knowing what your child is interested in and reading can open the door to great conversations at home,” Lovesmith said. “It’s a way to weave in discussions about your family’s values and what’s important in your home.”
If parents have concerns about specific books available in the library, they are encouraged to speak with their child’s school librarian. The librarian can ensure a student is unable to check out any book flagged as inappropriate for their child.
“We believe parents absolutely have the right to determine what their child reads. This is a partnership between parents and the school. We will happily work with parents to respect their wishes on this matter,” Lovesmith said. “If someone wants to restrict access to certain books, not just for their own child, but for all BISD students, then they must follow a more formal process outlined in policy.”
Policies govern school district operations. LEGAL policies compile federal law, state law, and court decisions, providing the statutory context in which all other policies should be read. Policy EF(LEGAL) states “Students’ First Amendment rights are implicated by the removal of books from the shelves of a school library.”
Lovesmith and her team have invested significant time researching the issue and developing an updated formal reconsideration process that meets the needs of students and reflects more parent voice. The Board policy committee members and administrators waited on the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) for guidance. TEA addressed book challenges in April and TASB issued model policies in June. The Board policy committee, during their August meeting, discussed and reviewed the guidance and has provided input for possible policy revisions to EF(LOCAL), the policy that outlines how BISD will address book challenges.
If a formal request is made to remove access to a library book for all students, a committee – which will consist of at least five members including a parent, teacher, principal and librarian – will read and review the book and make a recommendation on whether it should be removed from circulation or stay on library shelves.
Seven books are currently being challenged in BISD. All of the challenged books were only in the collection at Lake Belton High School. They were part of an 18,000-book purchase when the school opened in 2020.
“These books will move through the formal reconsideration process starting in September,” Lovesmith said. “When the challenges were made, we moved them off the shelves but still made them available if a student requested them and had parental consent. To date, no one has requested them.”
At last Monday’s school board meeting, trustees shared concerns with parents and grandparents who made public comments about the materials available in the district’s libraries.
They brought posters representing the seven challenged books that were only available at LBHS.
“I can speak for everyone here that what we heard tonight was very disturbing,” said Manuel Alcozer, Board secretary. “If we appear to be moving slowly, it’s because this a complex topic. It took several months for TEA to provide a model policy as guidance. We also have state and federal laws that we must comply with. So while we’ve always had a policy in place, we want to make sure we have a good method and that it aligns with our values and beliefs.”
Ty Taggart, the Board’s vice president, echoed these sentiments.
“I get frustrated being on the school board with how slow the wheel turns,” Taggart said. “I want this done yesterday. But we have to put something together that’s legal. We have to make sure what we do is sound. But I want it done. I don’t want to see that stuff in our libraries.”