The school district in Round Rock, Texas has issued an evasive response to author Phil Bildner’s allegation that his disinvitation from eight schools he had been slated to visit there this fall was due to his previous recommendation that students read the novel George by Alex Gino, which features a transgender protagonist.
In a statement released to the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, Round Rock Independent School District claimed that in Bildner’s school visits last year, he “made a statement to students regarding not listening to the grownups in their lives.” This does not necessarily contradict what Bildner himself has previously said about his book talk for George, which had a central theme of “be who you are.” As we have seen in the news recently, there are plenty of “grownups” who do not accept that message in the case of transgender individuals, so in a sense it may be true that Bildner’s message of self-acceptance did encourage some students to disregard the opinions of some parents, teachers, or other adults.
In response to the district’s statement, Bildner issued a five-page open letter detailing what happened between his previous booktalks in Round Rock last year and the sudden cancellation last month. As demonstrated by enthusiastic emails he quoted from librarians and other staff, Bildner received no clear indication that anyone in the district was less than pleased with his performance until he received the cancellation email at 5:30 in the evening on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend–what he characterized as “a press-send-and-run-away approach to doing business.”
Bildner’s letter also included collection statistics showing that only 10 copies of the critically praised George are available in libraries throughout the entire district, as opposed to between 48 and 258 copies of the five other titles he discussed with students last year. In conclusion he hinted, as he has previously, that there was a specific reason he originally chose to discuss a book about a transgender child in Round Rock–and that administrators know it:
Amazingly, none of what I’ve stated so far even addresses the root of all this. It’s time for the district leadership of Round Rock ISD to take responsibility. Answer these questions: How did this all start? Why did this all start? The librarians know. Community members know. It’s time for district leadership to acknowledge the truth.
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.