THE LATEST: We are seeking documents from the Central York School District to further understand the process by which books and educational materials are being removed from shelves in the District. We’re asking for information regarding complaints filed against books within the District, how the District reviews complaints and determines the removal of books, and how widespread the removals are across the District.
In 2021, Pennsylvania’s Central York School District garnered national attention over an attempt to ban hundreds of books, documentary films, and articles from classrooms. The list of banned materials was originally compiled by a diversity committee to serve as a resource guide for teachers and students in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder and the protests that followed, and was largely composed of work by people of color and/or about people of color.
When the Central York School Board quietly voted to ban, rather than make available, the items on the list, they were met with weeks of protests from students, teachers, parents, and community members. According to PEN America, Central York was the district with the highest number of banned books in the country while the ban was in effect.
While that public pressure forced the Board to reverse that ban at the end of 2021, the District hasn’t given up. In March 2023, it removed two more books from the high school library after they were deemed inappropriate by a committee: Push, a 1996 novel by Sapphire, and A Court of Mist and Fury, a fantasy novel by Sarah J. Maas. Superintendent Peter Aiken said that Push was removed because it contained sexual content and descriptions of abuse that did “not meet the standard of development appropriateness for independent reading material.”
Traditionally, debates over which books and curriculum are appropriate in schools have taken place between a concerned parent and a librarian or administrator. But recently, the issue has been supercharged by a rapidly growing and increasingly vocal minority that seeks to impose their views on all parents and educators. According to a recent report from PEN America, there are at least 50 groups across the country working to remove books they object to from libraries. Some have seen explosive growth recently: Of the 300 chapters that PEN tracked, 73 percent were formed after 2020.
The school board is expected to vote on two new policies during a school board meeting on April 17, 2023: the first would create a procedure for parents to submit written challenges to books used in classrooms (a separate policy for library materials is under development) and the second would require teaching materials to be approved by the school board. The board is also considering implementing a rating system for books that would provide parents with content information so that they could opt-out of having their children read certain books.