'To me, it's very racist': Alumni, authors react to Central York book ban

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

Alumni and the authors themselves are reeling from the Central York school board's teaching resource ban, which targeted works by creators of color or concerning racial issues.

"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.

The controversy, which drew national media attention last week amid ongoing protests outside the high school, is the subject in another board meeting Monday night. District officials added formal discussion of the ban to the meeting's agenda.

That meeting will start at 6:30 p.m. Monday and be held virtually via Zoom. A link to join can be found at https://www.cysd.k12.pa.us/. Public comment will be taken at that meeting.

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The four-page banned diversity list, sent to high school teachers 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.

In addition to the James Baldwin documentary, "I Am Not Your Negro," the list also includes a statement on racism from the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and a children's coloring book that features African Adrinkra symbols found in fabrics, logos and pottery.

The ban was the product of a unanimous school board decision last November that itself followed a series of discussions in August and September 2020 about whether to approve social studies curriculum inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.

Among the authors reached to for comment, there was a similar question 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 of 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."

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.