Central York board members, students say banned books should return to library
Two Central York School Board members and three high school students asked at Monday's board meeting that two banned books be returned to the library shelves.
Central York senior Zachary Smith demanded to know why the books have not been unbanned yet and what’s stopping this.
“Do you remember what happened last time?” the student asked, adding the students protested. “Do you want this to happen again?”
The books he referenced were “Push” by Sapphire and “Court of Mist and Fury” by Sarah Maas, which were challenged in September and banned from the high school library in January following the review of a committee, which had a policy that didn’t directly apply to independent reading materials in the school libraries. The administration admitted there wasn’t a direct policy to follow and used a different one for guidance.
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In 2020, a previous school board voted to ban a list of resource materials, many of which were produced by or about people of color or members of the LGBTQ community. Teachers were notified not to use those materials in August 2021. The news broke the following month, which led to students and the community protesting the ban. It was lifted later that month.
Smith said the students will not stand for this. He said there have been many people who spoke out against banning books, but the message seems “to be getting nowhere."
Before leaving the microphone, he quoted a musical he was recently in, “Newsies”: “Why didn’t you just come talk to us.”
Another Central student, Tristan Doud, said this ban felt more sneaky. He asked if the decision was morally right, then why did they hide it? The student demanded the books be put back and said the students “do not wish to be dictated to.”
“The clock is ticking down for reckoning,” he said before asking if the district will deflect or put the books back.
Favor Gabriel, president of the student activist group Panther Cultural Celebratory Affiliation, said, “Yes, I am here again, and no, I’m not satisfied.”
She spoke against the ban at the last school board meeting. Since then, Gabriel and other students had met with the administration on April 12 about the book ban. Per an Instagram post, they felt the district is headed in the right direction, even if it may take some time.
On Monday, she said she wanted the board to hear her thoughts as well, saying it’s wrong they took the books from the students. She said the district claims to care for the students, but the students aren’t heard.
Gabriel said she hated that this decision was made for her by people who don't know her. She said if the books were taken out for the wrong reasons, they should be returned.
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“I believe going forward you guys should not say you’re for the students but actually show us,” Gabriel said, explaining the students should get the same amount of respect as the board.
Board member Amy Milsten said she agreed and heard the concerns of the residents and students.
Milsten said she spoke with the administration many times and found some problems with the administrative regulation that was used in this ban. Milsten made some suggestions, including that the district only limit materials for students whose families request it.
“I don’t believe that a decision made for one child is necessarily appropriate for all children in any way,” Milsten said, explaining some children can handle certain materials while others cannot.
She said she doesn’t think any material already approved to be in a library should be removed. Last month, Aiken told the policy and curriculum committee he couldn't put the books back on the shelves without having them reviewed again. He explained he had concerns because the committee worried the books could harm students who possibly shouldn't read them independently. During that meeting, Aiken suggested putting the books through the rating system, that will help parents opt out of certain books, and through a new policy pertaining to library materials once it is ready. The committee is working on creating that policy now after realizing the problem arose because the district didn't have one.
Milsten said Monday she hadn't heard of the books hurting anyone, but if they did, she wants someone to tell her.
The board member listed the problems she found in the administrative regulation, some of which were used in the committee review process. She didn't think they were applicable in this case.
“How can you use this rubric, if you want to call it that, to test a library book for whether or not it should be available to all students in our entire district,” she asked.
She reminded listeners that if a parent doesn’t want a child to read the book, they have the right to do so and can write a letter to the library.
Milsten wants a policy to put the responsibility on the restricting family and not all the families.
“Our community is hurting,” she said. “We’ve been through something ― not the same ― but we’ve been through something similar that hurt people, that made people feel like they weren’t heard.”
Milsten said she doesn’t want that to happen again because she feels like the district is finally mending.
Board member Rebecca Riek agreed and said, “In light of our situation where we’re in a process to figure this all out, it’s my opinion as well that we should put those books back on the shelf.”
Resident and former board member Marie Damiano also told the board of her frustration, explaining she asked Superintendent Peter Aiken some questions on March 23. He told her he would get back to her.
“I am becoming impatient, though,” she said, explaining she tried to show grace and patience as Aiken asked from the public in the last school board meeting.
She asked Aiken about the history of the two banned books. Damiano reported to the board she was told the history for the removed books was deleted. She asked for the history of a third book, "Sold" by Patricia McCormick, which was challenged and not removed. She had not received that information.
Another question was what happens if a student borrowed the book from another entity through the InterLibrary Loan program. She said Aiken wasn’t sure, but she did her own digging. She sent a student she knew to the library to ask. The high school principal said no to getting the book through the system, she said.
“I really feel as if we are doing our students a disservice by saying they can’t even get these books somewhere else,” Damiano said, adding the students may not have the resources to get the books from public libraries.
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Damiano’s final question was whether the homeschooling community can challenge books. She said Aiken hasn’t answered her yet.
In other board news, two policies were adopted. One is about challenging materials, which is a revision of the earlier version. The other, which was brought out of retirement, is about resource materials and how they will be board approved and published on a website.
“Just so that everybody’s clear, we are not approving anything on how you challenge, just the fact that you can challenge,” Milsten said about the first policy.
She double checked with the administration that the current administrative regulations to go with these policies will be rewritten, which was confirmed. The future library policy is still in the works, she said.
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— Reach Meredith Willse at email@example.com or on Twitter at @MeredithWillse.