'Afraid to teach': School's book ban targeted Black, Latino authors
In 19 years of teaching, it was the first time one Central York High School educator had ever received an email like it: a list of banned books, movies and other teaching materials.
“This is disgusting," the teacher, who requested anonymity to protect his job, said. “Let’s just call it what it is — every author on that list is a Black voice."
The four-page list, sent by Central York High School Principal Ryan Caufman on Aug. 11, 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.
That ban was actually the product of a unanimous school board decision last November that itself followed an earlier series of discussions in August to September 2020 about whether to approve a social studies curriculum inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.
School board President Jane Johnson said last September that the pilot program, which the board tabled in August 2020 over disagreements with its teachings on white privilege, would remain there until further notice.
In October, however, discussions surrounding the tabled curriculum and diversity list resurfaced.
During a long and contentious meeting, school board members and district officials clashed on the purpose of the list and what it was created for.
"We have diversity — we love it, we enjoy it, we celebrate it, we want it — we're not rejecting that," said one school board member. "We're rejecting the one-sided pieces of those resources. It was one-sided teaching."
One member said the list was produced by the diversity committee to be used for curriculum, while another school official in attendance clarified that the list was created after the diversity committee approved the curriculum — adding that they are two separate things.
Assistant Superintendent Robert Grove added that his interpretation of the list was a compilation of media discussed during diversity committee meetings. In case somebody wanted to check out an article that was discussed, there would be a list with links available, he said.
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Confusion surrounding the list was apparent among the board members, who each shared different timelines of its creation, including one board member who said teachers requested resources in dealing with sensitive issues relating to race.
"The diversity committee came up with resources and development to help them know how to deal with the subject," the board member said during October's meeting. "And some of us took exception to what they were promoting to the teachers."
Then came November's vote.
Julie Randall Romig, a spokesperson for the Central York School District, said the banned diversity list is separate from the tabled curriculum.
"It was a separate list of resources created by our diversity education committee," Romig said, in a written statement. "The committee members were sharing resources with one another that could be helpful in educating themselves and in supporting our diverse student population at different times."
Lauri Lebo, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said she wondered if the Central York school board members had read any of the materials on the banned list.
"They’re banning material from 'Sesame Street,' but not David Duke. They’re banning PBS, but not the KKK," Lebo said, in an email. "They’ve even banned the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators’ statement on racism — which acknowledges that racism exists and is bad."
When reached Thursday, Johnson, the school board president, referred questions to Romig for further comment.
Lebo added that the move by school board members is an "outrage and insult," and hinders the academic freedoms of teachers.
"We are concerned that the ban on these materials without offering any credible alternatives will create a chilling effect on teachers being able to teach anything about race — the history of slavery, the Civil Rights Movement or Brown v. Board of Education," Lebo said.
One female teacher at Central York High School, who requested to remain anonymous, shared similar concerns.
“You have Black children who want to learn about themselves, and now teachers who live in fear of presenting that information to them," the teacher said. “This targets Black people, and now my concern is you have teachers afraid to teach."
— Reach Tina Locurto at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.