Central York is banning books again. There’s nothing ‘fictitious’ about it

York Dispatch editorial board

The Central York School District is at again.

In 2021, administrators sent teachers a list of materials — most of them from creators of color — that were banned from classroom use.

School officials ultimately backed away from the ban after The York Dispatch’s reporting and the work of student activists from the Panther Anti-Racist Union drew worldwide scrutiny.

But we figured that wouldn’t be the end.

At the very same school board meeting in which the ban was reversed, administrators and elected officials continued to perpetuate the lie that the ban was not a ban and that a more thorough curriculum review was coming. This, of course, flew in the face of the plain language of internal emails, one of which included the subject line “Banned Resources.”

The original email that raised awareness of Central York School District's ban on materials from creators of color.

Nearly two years later, education reporter Meredith Willse broke the news that Central York High School had quietly removed at least two books from its library. One of these banned books, “Push” by Sapphire, ranks among the most popular YA novels in recent decades, having been adapted into the 2009 Oscar-winning film “Precious.”

In response, school officials are once again attempting to gaslight us.

Superintendent Peter Aiken, in announcing a set of new policies aimed at creating a rating system for all books in the school library system, insists on saying that the books were “challenged” and “removed.”

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In an interview in the fall, Aiken had this to say about the 2021 ban: “I'm going to put it in air quotes — banned.”

Board Vice President Jodi Grothe, meanwhile, described the situation as a “fictitious ban” while declining to elaborate on what she actually means.

Central High School senior Edha Gupta holds a sign while posing for a photo outside the Central York School District Administration offices before a school board meeting there Monday, Sept. 13, 2021. The rally was in opposition to a banned resource list instituted by the district, which demonstrators say targets minority authors. Gupta organized student protests at the school the week prior to the meeting. Bill Kalina photo

Central students themselves aren’t fooled by their administrators and neither are we.

These young people, caught in the middle of an Orwellian culture war, are staging protests — wearing red to school each Friday in protest of the district’s censorship and circulating petitions to have the banned books restored. They also plan to attend Monday night’s school board meeting to voice their objections.

Unfortunately, the issue is larger than Central York.

School boards across the county and the country have become political battlegrounds as more politically motivated actors try to encroach on our education system and twist the facts to reflect their worldview.

According to PEN America, Pennsylvania ranks third in the nation for school book bans — with Central York leading the pack thanks to its 2021 book ban — based on data collected between July 2021 and June 2022.

There are a few things rational people can do to combat this.

First, shine a light on hypocrisy and intolerance wherever you find it. Share this editorial and the reporting by Meredith Willse so more people are aware of what’s going on at Central York and in other districts.

Second, consider running for your local school board. Such local races have always been and will continue to be far more impactful than national races on your daily life.

Finally, support your teens.

If they want to read Sapphire’s “Push” or Sarah J. Maas’s “A Court of Mist and Fury” — the two books removed from Central York High School’s library — encourage them to do so. And be prepared to have potentially difficult conversations about homophobia, misogyny, racism and romantic relationships.

These books do contain some sensitive themes, but certainly nothing worse than teenagers are already exposed to at home, on TikTok and via television. However, these books also teach empathy, resilience and social responsibility — valuable lessons for an increasingly fraught world.

For Central York parents and taxpayers who want to share their opinion on the book ban, you can attend Monday’s school board meeting at the Educational Service Center at 775 Marion Road, York. A policy committee meeting is planned at 5 p.m., followed by a board meeting at 6:30 p.m. Board meetings are also live-streamed at https://www.youtube.com/@cysdboardminutes433.