To challenge or not to challenge: Central York book ban policy still uncertain

Meredith Willse
York Dispatch

Central York Superintendent Peter Aiken, facing tremendous pressure over the school district's recent book bans, vowed that policy committee members would stay in the boardroom Thursday night until a final draft of its book policy was "ready to go."

After nearly three hours, a group of school officials — including several librarians, on hand to provide their feedback — left with a key question unresolved.

That is: Will parents — and possibly community members at large — be able to call for the removal of library books?

Many of the changes made Thursday night were relatively minor. For example, a "shall" became a "may" in a clause concerning materials donated to school libraries.

Superintendent Dr. Peter Aiken at Central York School District's meeting discussing Policy 109.1 in Springettsbury Township on Thursday, May 11, 2023.

The three-member policy committee ultimately left the key question to the administration, which drafted the original proposal that has drawn public scrutiny, to decide. First, librarians will meet to review the latest version of the policy. Next, Aiken and other administrators will review it. Finally, it will go — once again — to the policy committee for review Monday.

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That committee could then decide to advance the measure toward full board consideration — or possibly go back to the drawing board.

Vicki Guth, a board member who serves on the policy committee, ended Thursday's meeting by suggesting that the administration should do what it feels best.

“Because you all, after we pass the policy, you all have to live it,” Guth said.

Students, who are continuing to stage daily protests at the high school, are watching the adults closely.

Senior Zachary Smith said the school should be proactively seeking input from the students.

“It’s going to be the students that are going to be affected the most,” he said.

Central York came under fire after administrators quietly removed two books — “Push” by Sapphire and “A Court of Mist and Fury” by Sarah J. Maas — from the high school library after they were challenged by a community member. That sparked a student petition and discussions by the elected school board about potential policy changes, including a possible districtwide book rating system, amid concerns over censorship in the schools.

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The student protesters were galled by the latest actions because many of them had protested the district's previous book ban in 2021, when teachers were given a sweeping list of resources — all of them about or created by people of color — that they were not permitted to use in the classroom.

Smith and junior Laura Littlejohn, both of whom have actively spoken out at school board meetings and with The York Dispatch, said they're optimistic the school will pass an equitable policy — but they're not getting their hopes up, either.

"When they're making this policy," Littlejohn said, "I really hope that they know how we feel."

Laura Littlejohn, 17, a junior at Central York High School, speaks during Central York School District’s regular board meeting at Central York School District Educational Service Center in Springettsbury Township, Monday, April 24, 2023. Dawn J. Sagert photo

In particular, the teens are worried about administrators and school board members' focus on filtering the new books coming into the library — and the potential that they could target LGBTQ, minority and marginalized authors.

The policy considered Thursday night was originally drafted by Aiken along with the assistant superintendent, the director of human resources and two librarians who met for several hours. They used library policies from 10 school districts — including York City, Dallastown and Southern York school districts — to inform their decisions.

When it came to the question of book challenges, school board member Amy Milsten stood her ground.

From her vantage point, the onus should be on parents. Milsten has argued that parents have the right to choose what materials are acceptable for their own children but shouldn't be forcing those decisions on all children and all parents. That approach would allow parents to restrict their children's access to certain books, something the library already did before this year's controversy over "Push" and "A Court of Mist and Fury."

Board member Amy Milsten speaks during Central York School District’s regular board meeting at Central York School District Educational Service Center in Springettsbury Township, Monday, April 24, 2023. Dawn J. Sagert photo

“There is no committee needed for non-curricular library book materials,” she said Thursday night.

Milsten said Central York has an opportunity to be "trailblazers" when it comes to combatting censorship. She wanted the challenge section of the draft policy to be removed entirely.

“If we do this, other districts will follow suit,” she said.

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She also noted that the 16,000 books currently in the district's libraries already went through a vetting process — a statement that drew nods from the librarians in attendance Thursday night.

“If a book has been in here for 17 years, whatever policy was followed 17 years ago, that’s how the book arrived,” she said, noting that "Push" was added to the library sometime around 2006.

Guth and Danielle Allison, the other members of the policy committee, disagreed with Milsten. Guth noted that such an approach is fine for public libraries, but drew a distinction when it came to school libraries.

Members Amy Milsten, on left, and Danielle Allison, on right, Central York School District's meeting discussing Policy 109.1 in Springettsbury Township on Thursday, May 11, 2023.

Allison said a few of the books in the libraries, such as “Push,” can cause harm and need to be challenged. She said the books can put the reader back in active trauma. 

“We have kids that we have the obligation of protecting in our school district,” she said, arguing that removing books is not the equivalent of “restricting someone’s freedom of speech.”

Milsten responded that books such as "Push" — whose protagonist grapples with child abuse, racism and teen pregnancy — can help teens work through trauma they're actively experiencing in real life.

“Who's to say which is more important?” Milsten said, responding to Allison's approach to protecting some children by depriving others of access to certain books.

Central York School District's meeting discussing Policy 109.1 in Springettsbury Township on Thursday, May 11, 2023.

Guth interrupted the protracted discussion, saying, “Ladies, we’re not making this decision on the basis of the book ‘Push.’”

Milsten agreed, saying that the debate was about parental rights. 

North Hills Elementary librarian Beth Tyson said the seven of the librarians were in agreement. 

“That we would not have this part in the policy because it is a parent’s right,” Tyson said, saying the librarians would be more than happy to accommodate the parents. 

Librarian Shelly Savvopoulos, of Central York Middle School, said she isn’t sure how parents lost the knowledge that they already can restrict materials for their individual children. 

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When she worked in North Hills, Savvopoulos said, parents used that option to limit their own child's access.  She doesn’t know how or why the practice seemingly stopped. 

“Shame on us for not having that clear, because it might have made things easier now,” she said.

Central York Middle School librarian Shelly Savvopoulos speaking at Central York School District's meeting discussing Policy 109.1 in Springettsbury Township on Thursday, May 11, 2023.

Despite the lack of conclusion during Thursday night's meeting, Guth said there would be a "meeting of the minds" once the administration and staff met again to review the tweaks made to the draft. The question of what to do about parental challenges would be decided soon, she said. 

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The students, meanwhile, are insistent that the district return “Push” and “A Court of Mist and Fury” to the high school library while the deliberations continue.

“We will be protesting every day for the rest of the school year until they put the books back, until they give us transparency, until they work on this policy more,” Smith said. “Those are our big three main things. It’s not just about the books.”

Smith said there must be better communication between the administration, the students and the larger community.

“That’s one of [our] biggest goals: Listen to us,” he said. “We have some opinions that are cool.”

The school board's 5 p.m. policy committee meeting and the 6:30 p.m. school board meeting Monday will be at 775 Marion Road. Meetings can be attended in person or watched on YouTube at

— Reach Meredith Willse at or on Twitter at @MeredithWillse