Curriculum

District That Banned Diverse Books Reverses Its Decision After Pushback

By Tina Locurto, The York Dispatch, Pa. — September 21, 2021 3 min read
Image of books on a library shelf.
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Central York School District reversed its decision Monday night regarding a controversial teaching ban that targeted creators of color after escalating protests from students, parents, and teachers.

“We speak and listen to parents and community members to better understand and address concerns,” said board member Jodi Grothe prior to the vote. “We have heard you.”

The school board voted unanimously to reinstate the diversity resource list effective immediately. The move comes after weeks of criticism that drew a national media spotlight to the district.

District officials in November voted unanimously to impose the restrictions on teachers using any resources from the list.

Though the board unanimously approved the original ban in November 2020, many teachers have said they were surprised to find an email from Central York High School Principal Ryan Caufman on Aug. 11 that said: “Please see the attached list of resources that are not to be permitted to be utilized in the classroom.”

The four-page list names articles, videos, and books from some of today’s most acclaimed creators of color.

It included the Oscar-nominated PBS documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” about writer James Baldwin; a statement on racism from the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators; and a children’s coloring book that featured African Adrinkra symbols found in fabrics, logos and pottery.

Throughout the weeks of discourse, school board members including Veronica Gemma asserted the district does not ban books.

On the contrary, the four-page list includes an external link to a spreadsheet of literature ranging from kindergarten picture books to high school novels.

“We need to remember again as it was already said that every book on this list has been available in the library,” Gemma said Monday night. “Was this grade-specific sublist caught up in the vote last November? Yes it was — and that is my regret and I am deeply sorry for that.”

On Monday, York County GOP Chairman Jeff Piccola defended the district in a written statement.

“There is not and never has been any support for the banning of any books in Central York School District,” he wrote.

Demonstrators, students, teachers, and even alumni disagreed.

“You have this all-white school board banning articles of people of color. To me it’s very racist,” said Don Dehoff, who graduated from the high school in 1964.

When he heard about the ban, he took the unusual step of digging up his diploma and mailing it back to the school district. Then, he wrote about it in a letter directly addressing the issue.

“I wanted to dissociate myself from Central York School District,” said Dehoff, who now lives in Buffalo, New York.

Authors speak out

Among the authors reached to for comment, one similar question was asked — had district officials even read the materials that were banned?

Children’s author Marti Dumas’ series “Jaden Toussaint, the Greatest” received a spot on the list. Her series, meant for young children, is about a kindergarten genius who solves problems using the scientific method.

“I know 100% that nobody read this book,” Dumas said. “Unfortunately, this seems like a textbook example of when we talk about institutional racism.”

Dumas, who was a teacher for 13 years, said she would never put a book in a classroom she didn’t read.

She acknowledged the school board, like any other in the United States, would want to know what material is being provided to children. However, it seems disrespectful, she said, to deny that educators have the expertise to make the right decision about what to put in their classrooms.

In a school board meeting last week, board member Mike Wagner raised this exact point.

“There were members on the board who did not trust the teachers to do their jobs — and, second, we did not trust the administration to do their jobs when it came to this list,” Wagner said.

Another author from the list, Zetta Elliott, chimed in with her own thoughts on the matter regarding the aftermath of book banning on authors.

While banning books doesn’t harm authors — in fact often resulting in a boost in sales — it can be harmful to the student population, Elliott said via email.

“It’s deeply disappointing to know that inclusive literature has been targeted and kept out of the classroom simply to limit students’ access to different points of view,” Elliott said. “I’m proud of the students in York who are mobilizing against the ban and making their voices heard. Nothing could be more American.”

Copyright (c) 2021, The York Dispatch (York, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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