EDITORIAL: Central York board chooses to do nothing

York Dispatch Editorial Board
Central York High School in Springettsbury Township, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Look away.

That is what Central York's school board has decided is the best thing to do with a proposed new curriculum dealing with systemic racism.

After a heated discussion at August's board meeting and another on Monday, the all-white school board tabled a new curriculum that would have given Central York students a deeper look at race issues that are deeply embedded in this country.

Instead of giving teachers and students new resources and materials to draw from and discuss, the board decided to let the work of the district's diversity committee die by neglect.

On Monday, Superintendent Michael Snell sought to dispel misinformation that had generated more than 100 public comments on Aug. 17.

“The district is not asking the board to adopt the Black Lives Matter curriculum, a Marxist curriculum or anything other than a curriculum based on state standards," he said.

Those misconceptions went along with opinions voiced by two board members, Vicki Guth and Victoria Gemma, at the Aug. 10 meeting, where Guth said discussions of white privilege and white saviorism could make students turn toward socialism and reduce their respect for the country and their faith.

Gemma questioned whether students were being educated about the value of police officers. She later elaborated on her concerns, apparently referencing a recent comment made by a teacher during a diversity committee meeting, saying "reverse racism is still racism."

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After the meeting, the district released a statement defending its push for diversity while also distancing the district from the two board members' comments.

"Comments made by individual School Board members during a public meeting regarding these issues are reflective of individual board members’ personal views/ideologies/beliefs and not reflective of the administration of Central York School District, the School Board as a whole or the Central York School District," the statement read.

Much of the material in the curriculum did support Black Lives Matter teachings, officials said, and drew on ideas from The 1619 project, a series by the New York Times Magazine that reframes U.S. history to begin when the first enslaved Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619. Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones won a Pulitzer Prize this year for the work.

The inclusion of The 1619 Project in social studies classes nationwide has drawn the ire of President Donald Trump, who on Sept. 6 threatened to withhold federal funding from California schools that use the materials. 

Snell tried to dampen the fire on Monday by offering to rename the diversity committee, a subcommittee of the curriculum committee that had put together a controversial  supplemental list this summer, after the curriculum had been prepared. But Guth was not buying it. 

"We know there is a difference between what we can write in curriculum and what actually happens in the classroom," she said.

Several board members agreed with residents who said the resources should be more diverse — not just dealing with Black and white issues — although one resident noted no resource should be eliminated because it clashes with personal beliefs on the board.

"If other people disagree with our position, or my position, that’s fine," Guth said of sharing opinions on the board. "I think it’s good that it gets aired and we get an opportunity to discuss things."

But there's a difference between getting to discuss things and standing between the district's students and resources and discussions that could answer many questions young minds have.

Central York has seen a large shift in demographics, with minorities now making up nearly 30% of the student population, as opposed to 1991, when less than 5% of the students were minorities. Between that shift and a new awakening in the U.S. about the way Black people and other minorities are often treated, there will be discussions about race in classrooms.

If the school board wants to turn away from those discussions, there should at least be a vote on the record so the community knows which members would prefer to lead those talks and which would rather fan hysteria. To let the curriculum simply die from neglect is an act of cowardice.