Pennsylvania School District Rolls Back Bans On Books By Authors Of Color After Backlash From Students

A Pennsylvania school district that had banned anti-racist books and educational resources written by or about people of color – including children’s titles on Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. – overturned its nearly year-long decision this week following backlash and protests from students, parents and educators in the community.

The Central York School District implemented a “freeze” last fall on a long list of books and educational resources that focused almost entirely on titles related to people of color. The school district claimed that the race and social justice books, which the southern Pennsylvania community hoped to help strengthen the education curriculum after the George Floyd murder and the 2020 racial justice protests, had been frozen, not banned, after some parents raised concerns about the material. .

The school board announced Monday that it had voted unanimously to restore access to books that primarily involved people of color, district spokeswoman Julie Randall Romig confirmed to the Washington Post.

Jane Johnson, president of the school board, said in a statement that reviewing the anti-racist documents had “taken far too long.” The all-white school board had taken months to review books and materials such as the children’s titles on Parks and King, Malala Yousafzai’s autobiography, the Oscar-nominated PBS documentary “I’m Not Your Black” on the writer James Baldwin and CNN Town Hall Sesame Street on racism.

Johnson previously noted that some parents in the district “believed that rather than unite on diversity, some resources polarize and divide over diversity and are based on contested theories and facts.”

“What we’re trying to do is balance legitimate academic freedom with what might be literature / material that is too militant in nature and might lean more toward indoctrination rather than academic content geared to age, ”Johnson said this week. “To that end, we recognize the intensity of opinions on all sides of these issues, and we are committed to addressing this long delay. “

The move, which came after months of criticism and national attention, was announced hours after about 200 students and parents protested the school board’s ban, holding up signs reading: “Education no. ‘is not indoctrination ”.

“We heard you,” board member Jodi Grothe said ahead of the vote, according to the York Dispatch.

The reversal came, in part, because of students at Central York High School who spoke out against and protested the ban, claiming their “thoughts were invalidated.” Students have staged peaceful protests over consecutive days this month in response to the district’s inaction to overturn the ban on books and resources.

“The overturning of this ban was surprising but not surprising from most people’s point of view,” the executive board of the Panther Anti-Racist Union, a group of students at the school, said in a statement. “We hope this has been a lesson for this community and these leaders: this injustice can no longer and will no longer be tolerated. “

Johnson did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Friday.

The school district overthrow comes at a time when educators and elected officials across the country are engaged in heated and tense debates about the extent to which teachers can go in teaching history, race and systemic racism. in class. Most of these battles between school districts, parents, and Republican lawmakers have focused on Critical Race Theory, an academic framework for examining the systemic racism that has become one of the nation’s last cultural wars. .

Conservative lawmakers in several states have proposed to ban the teaching of critical race theory in public schools. Glenn Youngkin, Virginia’s Republican candidate for governor, has made banning critical race theory in schools one of his campaign’s most prominent promises, though state school officials and people across the country have repeatedly denied that they teach critical race theory in K-12 schools.

Critical Race Theory is an intellectual movement that examines how policies and laws perpetuate systemic racism. He has become the object of heavy media coverage by the right-wing media.

The backlash has spread throughout the classroom in recent weeks. James Whitfield, a Texas high school principal, was suspended last month after being publicly accused of promoting critical race theory, which he has denied. He told The Post he was the target of political activists who want to block attempts to make schools more inclusive.

“It sounds absurd,” he said, “but that’s the nature of what we’re dealing with.”

In York, Pa., About 80 miles north of Baltimore, parents and teachers in the county school district hoped the “Diversity Committee Summer Meeting Resource List” would help educate students further. after Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis and nationwide protests in the summer of 2020, the list includes highly regarded authors of color such as Ibram X. Kendi, Jacqueline Woodson, and Ijeoma Oluo.

But Johnson noted in a separate statement this month that “a significant portion of parents in our district have raised concerns about certain documents included on the list.” Discussions between parents and the school district about teachers talking about white privilege and what it meant to be anti-racist intensified. The school board chair noted at the time that parents’ concerns were “based on the content of the resource, not on the author or subject.”

“I don’t want my daughter to grow up feeling guilty for being white,” Matt Weyant, a concerned parent, told CNN.

On November 9, 2020, the school board “unanimously approved a decision to freeze the use of these resources” pending review, Johnson said.

A Twitter account called Central York Banned Book Club has compiled a long list of all the books and resources banned by the district.

“The copy is tiny because the list is huge,” the account tweeted on Sunday.

According to the York Dispatch, the feedback from students, teachers, parents and even alumni intensified months later after Central York High School principal Ryan Caufman sent an email August 11 with a four page list attached to the note: list of resources that should not be used in class.

In response, students of color who believed their voices were not being heard began to protest peacefully against the school district’s decision. Student Edha Gupta described the ban at a Monday rally as “a dagger in my heart”, saying she no longer recognizes “the inclusive, loving and diverse Central that has been a part of my life since kindergarten. “.

“Our thoughts are invalidated,” Gupta told WGAL. “There is only part of the community that this ban represents, and it is not ours.”

Christina Ellis, who was one of the students leading the protests, told the outlet that a list banning so many black, native and colored perpetrators “shows discrimination.”

“We believe it is wrong,” she said. During this week’s protest, she said: “When we see badly, we do something. “

What started out as a small daily protest by a few college students quickly grew into a larger effort that included national headlines on CNN and Fox News. Some of the perpetrators have also started to denounce the district ban. Brad Meltzer, author of “I am Rosa Parks” and “I am Martin Luther King Jr.,” two of the books included in the list, said he was heartbroken by the ban. Meltzer, who is white, wrote the children’s headlines as part of his “Ordinary People Change the World” series.

“We wrote these books to give our children these lessons of empathy and perseverance. That’s the subject of this whole series, ”Meltzer told Fox News, saying the book ban was not a“ Republican or Democratic ”issue. “And are you telling me that they have to control a children’s book on Rosa Parks?” “

His feelings were echoed by Marti Dumas, whose children’s series, “Jaden Toussaint, the Greatest”, was also banned by the school district. Dumas told the Dispatch that she was shocked that her series about a kindergarten genius who solves problems using the scientific method is not allowed.

“I know 100% that no one has read this book,” said Dumas. “Unfortunately, this seems to be a classic example of when we talk about institutional racism.”

At a lively virtual school board meeting this week, Meltzer reiterated that the district had made a terrible decision.

“When you ban Dr King and Rosa Parks, you are on the wrong side of history,” he said.

Following the announcement of the reversal, some board members apologized for the delay in the review.

“I don’t think it was or is useful to keep an entire list. Period, ”said Tim Strickler, member of the board of directors, during the virtual meeting.

Ben Hodge, a teacher at Central York High School and a student group’s staff advisor, described the student activists as “heroes” who “should be celebrated as bastions of American freedom and democracy.”

“I want to be clear, these kids did this,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Shortly before this week’s vote, Nathan Grove, a 2000 graduate of Central York High School, praised the school board for not only accepting criticism but also for accomplishing something that once seemed unlikely in a polarized country.

“CNN’s Don Lemon and Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade have agreed on something. They both said the book ban was wrong, ”Grove told the school board. “You bring the country together. “

Katie Shepherd of the Washington Post contributed to this report.

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