Central York unifies behind banned books — but stay vigilant

York Dispatch Editorial Board

The Central York school board obviously wasn't expecting this.

For nine months, no one seemed to care that a long list of resources recommended by the district's diversity committee had been banned from use in classrooms. 

After all, the board had gotten away with indefinitely tabling the diversity curriculum by saying it was too divisive, didn't show proper respect for police and taught white children that society doesn't give people of color the same opportunities they enjoy.

Society doesn't give people of color the same opportunities white people enjoy, but that's beside the point. Some members of the board didn't want that fact pointed out to while children, and the rest of the board went along with those mid-20th century views.

Books from Central York School District's banned resources list are organized at the home of Hannah Shipley (not pictured) in West Manchester Township, Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021. Dawn J. Sagert photo

So last November, when the board unanimously banned such highly controversial content as the children's picture books "Fry Bread," "Hair Love" and "Like the Moon Loves the Sky," along with works such as the Oscar-nominated PBS documentary "I Am Not Your Negro" about writer James Baldwin and a statement on racism from the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators, they probably thought that was the end of the discussion.

And it was, for a while. 

But then the four-page list of resources not to be used in classrooms was distributed to teachers by Central York High School Principal Ryan Caufman on Aug. 11...

Then the books hit the fan.

More:'Afraid to teach': School's book ban targeted Black, Latino authors

After a Sept. 1 article by Dispatch reporter Tina Lcurto, the protests began. Central York High School students stood outside the school with signs blasting the decision every day for more than a week.

Voices from the community joined them, and soon authors on the list also spoke out against the decision.

And along the way, some women decided to do something about it. 

Central York residents JJ Sheffer and Hannah Shipley began to gather copies of the banned books. At first a few for the free libraries they host, and then a few more.

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

More:Central York School District reverses diversity book ban: 'We have heard you'

Soon Amazon was making multiple deliveries a day at their homes. Books were piling up on piano benches and in the kitchen and in the garage. Soon there was little room to move, and family members were spending evenings sorting through all of the literature.

It kept coming. Deliveries from across the country and around the county arrived — nearly 7,000 copies of the books donated to make sure those voices that had been banned in classrooms were heard outside the schools.

An avalanche is not an overstatement.

The outpouring of attention was exactly what was needed — and just what the school board didn't want. The same board that unanimously approved the ban last November tucked their tails between their legs in the face of the public's obvious support for the banned resources and temporarily reinstated all of the resources on Sept. 20, while also proclaiming that they were never banned to begin with, just not allowed to be taught. Which sounds a lot like a ban.

And all those books?

They're out in the community. Some were read aloud Sunday at Sheffer's house before being given away. On Wednesday, more than 5,000 were snatched up in less than half an hour during a giveaway at Cousler Park in Manchester Township. Fitting events for national Banned Books Week.

With all of those banned books now in the hands of children, there's one more step adults need to take. 

Remember this.

We don't know what will happen on Election Day, but the Central York school board race is one of the most combative in the county. And the district is bringing in a new superintendent in the next few weeks, as well.

The lifting of the ban was a temporary measure that the board could backtrack on at any point. It's up to the community to keep this issue in the minds of the public both before and after the election to ensure that, no matter who is sitting at the board table, those previously banned books aren't removed from classrooms again.