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.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

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.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Data Webinar
Education Insights with Actionable Data to Create More Personalized Engagement
The world has changed during this time of pandemic learning, and there is a new challenge faced in education regarding how we effectively utilize the data now available to educators and leaders. In this session
Content provided by Microsoft
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Accelerate Learning with Project-Based Learning
Earlier this year, the George Lucas Educational Foundation released four new studies highlighting how project-based learning (PBL) helps accelerate student learning—across age groups, multiple disciplines, and different socio-economic statuses. With this year’s emphasis on unfinished
Content provided by SmartLab Learning
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. If we

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Curriculum From Our Research Center Privacy, Porn, and Parents in the Room: Sex Education's Pandemic Challenges
After more than a year of instructional shifts and social isolation, students need sex education that is media-savvy and relationship-wise.
7 min read
Conceptual image of students feeling isolated, but also trying to connect.
Mary Haasdyk for Education Week
Curriculum Calls to Ban Books by Black Authors Are Increasing Amid Critical Race Theory Debates
Books about race and the experiences of Black Americans are being challenged by parents who claim they make white children feel uncomfortable.
8 min read
Fans of Angie Thomas, a Jackson, Miss., resident whose book, "The Hate U Give," has been on a national young adult best-seller list for over 80 weeks, show off their copies at a reception and book signing for the author, in Jackson on Oct. 10, 2018. Thomas' novel has crossed over to a wider audience than simply young adults. The reception honored her writing as well as the coming release of the big screen adaption of the first novel.
The young adult best-seller "The Hate U Give" was one of the top 10 most challenged books of 2020.
Rogelio V. Solis/AP
Curriculum He Taught About White Privilege and Got Fired. Now He's Fighting to Get His Job Back
Matthew Hawn is an early casualty in this year's fight over how teachers can discuss with students America's struggle with racism.
13 min read
Social studies teacher Matthew Hawn is accused of insubordination and repeated unprofessional conduct for sharing Kyla Jenèe Lacey's, 'White Privilege', poem with his Contemporary Issues class. Hawn sits on his couch inside his home on August 17, 2021.
Matthew Hawn is accused of insubordination and repeated unprofessional conduct for lessons and materials he used to teach about racism and white privilege in his Contemporary Issues class at Sullivan Central High School in Blountville, Tenn.<br/>
Caitlin Penna for Education Week
Curriculum What's the Best Way to Address Unfinished Learning? It's Not Remediation, Study Says
A new study suggests acceleration may be a promising strategy for addressing unfinished learning in math after a pandemic year.
5 min read
Female high school student running on the stairs leads to an opportunity to success
CreativaImages/iStock/Getty Images Plus