My confidence in public schools to be a safe place for kids to learn was shattered last August with this quote from a book displayed in the library at Belton Middle School: “From six up, I used to kiss other guys in my neighborhood, make out with them, and perform oral sex on them. I liked it. I used to love oral. And I touched their you-know-whats. We were really young, but that’s what we did.”

To say I was shocked is an understatement. Heartbroken is more accurate. Why are we exposing students as young as 11 to sexually explicit material? I notified the principal, who referred the problem to district administration, and this particular book was moved to one of our high schools.

I wish I could say that was the only book of its kind, or even the worst example I found, however, since that day I have discovered over 100 sexually explicit and age-inappropriate books in every secondary school library of Belton ISD. These books contain narratives and graphics that normalize child sexual abuse, sexual assault, incest, drug abuse and suicide.

“Sold” by Patricia McCormick is currently offered in three of our schools, including a middle school. It is a fictional work about the traumatic life of a young girl in India, sold into sex slavery and describes in detail many accounts of child rape. “Then he is on top of me, and something hot and insistent is between my legs. He grunts and struggles, trying to fit himself inside me. With a sudden thrust I am torn in two. ‘Oh, yes,’ he says, panting. ‘Habib is good in bed.’”

Imagine an 11-year-old choosing this book and being exposed to these harsh and heavy concepts that are difficult for adults to process. Consider the risk of school age victims of sexual abuse being traumatized further by this material, possibly even apart from the guidance of a trusted adult. Books like this one are pervasively vulgar, violating the Texas Penal Code and the Texas Education Code.

So, who is responsible? Ultimately, the school board. For months, I spoke before the school board conveying the problem and asking the superintendent and board trustees to intervene by removing books with sexually explicit and age-inappropriate content. Leadership in other Texas ISDs have done just that, but Belton’s school board adopted a policy handed to them by TASB (Texas Associate of School Boards).

This policy actually puts an undue burden on parents. It requires a parent to:

  • First discover a book, or a student must first be exposed to a book.
  • Set up a meeting with the librarian who will attempt to convey the value of having the book among the collection.
  • Complete a formal request that requires the book be read in its entirety, include quotations, page citations and suggest an alternative. What is an alternative to erotica?

The decision then goes to a panel of five people, three of whom work for the district, with the majority decision determining whether the book is removed or returned to the shelves.

In five months, around nine books have been challenged and all but two have been returned to district circulation. These books, “Gender Queer” and “Milk and Honey,” have been found in school libraries across the nation. Two weeks ago, I discovered the author of “Milk and Honey” has another book, “The Sun and Her Flowers,” with the same level of filth and is also in one of our libraries. The search is endless and I often wonder why this job has fallen on concerned parents like me, rather than on those we entrust with our children.

Sadly, the response from the board has taken on the form of a PR campaign aimed at preserving the reputation of the district at the expense of our children. Several YouTube videos produced and distributed by the district lead constituents to believe that a mere handful of books have been discovered in only one high school library and slipped in through a bulk purchase among several thousand books. This is not the whole truth, but it is the message maintained by the district despite being regularly notified to the contrary.

Like most public schools, the library catalog is available online to search with a title or author, which leads to another obstacle. How do I even know what books are available without already having a title or author of a specific book? My process has been to learn of a concerning book found in another school and more often than not, Belton has it too.

At this point, it would seem that nothing short of a full audit of our libraries will restore confidence in our local leadership to ensure the safety of our children. With local school boards upholding policies that have failed to protect our children from sexually explicit and age-inappropriate material, our best recourse is to vote for courageous leaders who will take a stand.

Belton ISD provides an example of why regulations are needed from the state. Proposed legislation will close the loopholes that allowed books with harmful content to enter our libraries in the first place. Further solutions such as establishing library standards and mandating content warnings for books give hope that will elevate a standard of decency for the sake of Texas students.