More than year after book ban backlash, Central York quietly 'removes' novel from library

Meredith Willse
York Dispatch

Less than two years after Central York School District faced widespread criticism for banning books and other teaching materials, the district is again under fire for quietly removing another book from the high school library.

“Push,” a 1996 novel by American author Sapphire, was banned from the high school library around mid-January after a complaint brought it to the attention of a committee for review, district spokesperson Nicole Montgomery said.

“It contained sexual content and descriptions of physical, sexual and emotional abuse that do not meet the standards of developmental appropriateness or independent reading material available at the library,” she said of the committee's findings.

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The sequel to this book is still listed in the library online. Montgomery said unless someone asks the district to review it, the district doesn’t have any plans to pull it. 

District resident Mike Mountz addressed the board during its Monday night meeting, saying the district took the wrong lesson from the furious public response to its 2021 ban.  

“Apparently, they learned this: Next time, try to ban the books in secret so you don’t get caught,” he said, noting he learned of the ban from social media posts.

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Central York School Board President Kyle King listens as resident Mike Mountz as he addresses the board over a book that was removed from the Central York High School library March 13, 2023.

Mountz claimed the policy to deal with complaints about books lacks transparency. 

The current policy requires challenges to be submitted in writing to the the building principal and assistant superintendent, who will meet with the teacher and department chairperson to review the material. The challenge can be further escalated, to a review committee made up of administrators and staff, to inspect the material. If there is still an issue, it can be escalated to the superintendent and to the board.

Mountz asked during the meeting if the committee, made up of Central York staff, looked like any of the characters in the book or the author.

The board did not respond to the questions about the book during the public comment period. The board members left immediately after the meeting and could not be reached for comment.

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The board will consider revisions to the complaint policy at its meeting at 6:30 p.m. March 27. Residents can attend in person at 775 Marion Road or online through the district’s YouTube channel. The proposal includes a change that would require anyone with an issue about materials to go to the teachers and building principals before submitting the complaint to administrators.

Another proposed policy also will be up for review at that meeting. It would require the board to adopt all resource materials in a regular meeting, then list the materials and the board-approved curriculum on a website available to everyone. 

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Background: The previous book ban, which did not include "Push," began in November 2020, when the school board voted to forbid teachers from using about 200 materials on the Diversity Resource List. The district notified teachers in August 2021 about the ban via email.

Panther Anti-Racist Student Union organizer Edha Gupta speaks at rally outside the Central York School District Administration offices before a school board meeting there Monday, Sept. 20, 2021. The rally was in opposition to a banned resource list instituted by the district, which demonstrators say targets minority authors. District officials added formal discussion of the ban to Monday's agenda. Gupta is a Central York High School senior. Bill Kalina photo

The community found out and protested, with four Central students at the forefront — Edha Gupta, Christine Ellis, Renee Ellis and Olivia Pituch, who formed the Panther Anti-Racist Union. The board lifted the ban in September 2021. 

Patricia Jackson, a district employee and co-adviser to the Panther Anti-Racist Union, reminded the board Monday that The King Center for Nonviolent Social Change recently recognized those students for their work, and the group will be recognized in May by the Pennsylvania State Education Association for its continuing activism. 

Ben Hodge, the other co-adviser on staff, also pointed out to the board that “book removals and bans are a part of the attack on the public education.” He said there's a website used by those who want to ban books, offering how-to advice for would-be censors.

“It clearly states that their plan is to stir up outrage and get likes on Facebook,” he said, explaining as a parent he supports parental rights, but not when a “narrow group of parents' rights” takes priority over the rights of the community.

Before the meeting, parent Amelia McMillan, who is running for a board seat in the next election, said she read "Push" after her high school guidance counselor recommended it. She called the ban ridiculous.

“And we want to talk about parental rights and transparency and removing resources ... you shouldn't get to tell my kid what’s available, then,” McMillan said. 

If she didn’t want her child reading that book or others, she could easily go into her parent account and restrict what the child can borrow from the library, she said.

Noting the district's history of banning materials, McMillan said there wasn’t enough transparency around this decision. She said she still has questions, such as who asked that the book be removed from the library.

The district could have notified the community, McMillan said, but instead acted in secret.

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Leo Biser tells the Central York School Board they should not take the voices of minorities away during a school board meeting on March 13, 2023.

Freshman Leo Biser addressed the board and also suggested the district didn't learn anything from its previous ban.

He told the board about his experience as a queer, transgender person who dealt with constant bullying, never feeling truly accepted and people reporting his use of the men’s bathrooms and locker rooms.

He also pointed out parents have the option to restrict what their own children read, and there's no need for the district to make that decision for every other student. He begged the board not to take away the voices of minorities. 

“We are here; we are people and we will never be gone,” he said. 

— Reach Meredith Willse at or on Twitter at @MeredithWillse.