York, Pennsylvania (Trends Wide) — Students in a southern Pennsylvania school district are battling the latest example of panic spreading over how history and race are taught in schools across America.
“I don’t think a moral compass would allow you to ban books on equality and love of neighbor,” Christina Ellis, a senior at Central York High School, told Trends Wide.
Ellis is among the students protesting the book ban in York, Pennsylvania, and questions that officials who decided to remove certain reading materials from the curriculum have even read the resources they consider controversial. She was joined by other teens protesting outside York Central High School this week.
On Monday, students, parents and other community members debated during a virtual school board meeting about the list of anti-racist books and resources that were banned from the curriculum by the Central York school board last year.
Last October, the all-white school board unanimously banned a list of educational resources that included a children’s book about Rosa Parks, the autobiography of Malala Yousafzai and Trends Wide’s program on racism on Sesame Street.
From chaotic school board meetings to inter-party political struggles, debates over curriculum diversity have sparked controversy across the country in recent months. And earlier this month, a new Texas law aimed at restricting debates about race and history in schools caused some educators to rethink and quit civic-related activities so as not to conflict with it.
But in York, discussions about race flared in the wake of last summer’s protests and students began having more conversations about racism and creating more inclusive environments.
School officials say this is not a ban, and that the materials are “frozen” while the board of directors examines them. But that process has taken almost a year. At Monday’s virtual council meeting, district leaders said the materials remain banned.
Some students and their parents said it is frustrating and questioned the logic of a school board that they believe is not diverse and does not address the concerns of a multicultural student body.
A senior at York Central High School, Edha Gupta, said the book ban “was a slap in the face.”
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“This is a meeting that after listening to their students’ concerns about diversity in the district, hearing my struggle with race, being an American Indian and constantly feeling like I didn’t belong. After all those conversations for weeks and weeks , they still pursued the book ban. “
Gupta is not the only student angry at the board. “I was deeply hurt when I learned about this book ban, which hurts black and brown authors and resources,” said Ellis, a black senior, in high school.
He said books are crucial in teaching students about racism.
“Why does an episode of Sesame Street threaten the education of children? If anything, this school board is threatening education,” he said during the meeting.
School librarians have removed the books from the shelves, and teachers say their lesson plans have suffered.
“Now, with this resource ban, I have to think twice about whether I should or can use a James Baldwin quote as the opening of my class,” said Ben Hodge, a teacher at Central York High School.
There is also some fear among educators.
“There are teachers who look over their shoulders wondering if someone is going to be at their door darkening their door, saying you said something or mentioned something or used something that you shouldn’t,” said Patricia Jackson, who has taught in the Central school district. York for over 20 years.
The fact that all prohibited materials are from or about people of color is just a coincidence, according to Jane Johnson, president of the school board.
“The concern was based on the content of the resources, not the author or subject,” he said in a statement.
What the parents say
“I do not believe that a board that lacks diversity is the proper authority to determine what material is appropriate to address racial issues in this community,” said Brandi Miller, mother of a student in the school district.
However, other parents supported the ban.
One mother said that “the community is 100% against a critical racial theory indoctrination agenda,” during Monday’s meeting. “Schools are not the place to shape politics or identity.”
But critical race theory is not taught in K-12 curricula.
“This is clearly an attack on diversity, equity (and) inclusion. It feels like a political hype based on misinformation,” Ana Ramón, deputy director of advocacy for the Intercultural Development Research Association, told Trends Wide earlier. of this month.
York’s father, Matt Weyant, praised the school board for enforcing the ban.
“I don’t want my daughter to grow up feeling guilty about being white,” she said.
This sentiment is spreading throughout the United States. An increasing number of states have passed or are considering policies that strictly define what students can learn about race.
But it is the students who are lost, say former and current students.
During the board of directors meeting, a man who claimed to be a former student of the school district said that unless the school board can review each book of prohibition and explain what is so “loathsome” about each of them, then books must be allowed back into the school curriculum.
“I want to learn genuine history,” said Olivia Pituch, a student protesting outside Central York High School this week.
“I don’t want to learn a whitewashed version. I want to hear it all. I don’t want everyone to worry about how we feel because nobody cared about how the BIPOC members of the community felt.”
But one expert said this ban is different from many other debates across the country.
“This seems quite egregious. I can see how certain trainings or workshops that some parents object to really seem outside of what you would expect from a history class,” said Natalia Mehlman Petrzela, associate professor of history at the New School.
“But the type of texts that are being banned here makes me feel like there is now a kind of allergy to anything that mentions race or racism.”
It’s about more than just a book, or a movie, or even a curriculum, veteran teachers argue. In York, they worry that it is a war against their profession.
“I am not an enemy of the state. I am here to take care of their babies when they come into my classroom and there are some that I am looking at, but they are still babies,” said Jackson, the York teacher.