Northeastern Senior High School holds graduation ceremony

Central York's kids are alright. The administrators? Not so much

York Dispatch editorial board

We are proud of Central York High School's student activists.

These young people are standing up to administrators who don't seem to understand basic truths about democracy and what it means to hold power.

On Friday, shortly after five students sat down with The York Dispatch to express their thoughts about the district's second book ban in as many years, all of them were pulled into a meeting and harangued by administrators for exercising their constitutional right to freedom of speech.

According to the students, they were repeatedly yelled at during an hour-and-a-half-long meeting. Neither they nor their parents were notified of the meeting prior to it happening.

Superintendent Peter Aiken, in an interview after Monday night's board meeting, told the Dispatch that he spoke "sternly" to the students — but said they were free to protest "if that's what they want to do."

Central York Superintendent Peter Aiken 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

The students say the meeting was an intimidation tactic, and we believe them.

“We’re not stupid,” freshman Naomi Smith said. “I know they’ll say they didn’t mean to come off as intimidating, or that it was just a meeting. It wasn’t just a meeting.”

The students themselves were fully aware of the power imbalance at play here.

Aiken and every other adult in that conference room knows it, too.

"You're administrators," junior Laura Littlejohn said. "You already have respect. We don't. ... We have to earn that respect. ... You are using that respect, that power, to degrade us and to get us to be silent."

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

Central York administrators specifically targeted the five students who spoke to The York Dispatch — not any of the other Panther Anti-Racist Union or Panther Cultural Celebratory Affiliation members. They held the students in that room through multiple class periods, and the students' guardians were not informed about what was going on.

One of their parents spoke out at Monday night's school board meeting, demanding to know the district's policy on such impromptu meetings. We'd like to know, too.

Quite frankly, the actions of Central York administrators and many of the district's elected school board members have been shameful. The book ban itself reflects blatant censorship. A number of district officials continue to perpetuate the lie that the bans are not bans, despite all the evidence — including an internal email referring to "banned resources."

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

The unplanned meeting Friday, meanwhile, is a galling abuse of power that undermines the trust we place in these individuals.

Putting ourselves in the shoes of these young people, it's easy to see the situation for what it is. A lot is at stake for them, and not simply their access to knowledge. They don't know what these powerful people — who hold their futures in hand — are capable of.

The York Dispatch admires the courage of these young people attempting to hold their administrators and elected officials accountable, and we stand with them.

There is simply no excuse for the administration's handling of this situation.

This is no longer just a question of censorship.

It's a question of respect.

These students understand that respect is something that is earned. At their young age, they also understand that leaders who must yell in order to assert their authority aren't true leaders at all. Such behavior is instead a sign of weakness.

Aiken and the other administrators should learn from the example set by their students.