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PA high school bans list of diversity resources

“Good afternoon — please see the attached list of resources that are not permitted to be utilized in the classroom.”

On August 11, 2021, Central York High School staff received an email from their principal announcing a list of banned teaching materials. Teachers and students alike were quick to notice that most, if not all resources on the list were by authors of color.

“Let’s just call it what it is — every author on that list is a Black voice,” an anonymous Central York teacher told the York Dispatch.

The four-page list, titled “Diversity Committee Resources,” includes materials spanning from books to documentaries to TED Talks. Most of the banned items address the issue of racism.

According to members of the Central York High School Board speaking to the York Dispatch newspaper, the list was created by the school’s diversity committee around August 2020, when the school board was considering a new social studies curriculum inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. Discussions about the new curriculum prompted heated debates over teachings on white privilege, resulting in the curriculum discussion being tabled indefinitely.

School officials say that it’s not a “ban,” the materials are simply “frozen” while the board reviews the resources, according to a CNN article. However, the materials are still under review one year later and will be prohibited until the process is over.

Members of the Central York High School community are concerned that the all-white school board’s decision does not reflect the concerns of their diverse student body, and that such a ban restricts the academic freedom of their teachers.

“You have Black children who want to learn about themselves,” said another anonymous Central York teacher, and “teachers who live in fear of presenting that information to them.” No alternatives have been suggested to replace the banned materials, so teachers have few options if they wish to address racism.

Among the resources proposed to be removed are a Sesame Street and CNN lecture for kids and families, the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators’ statement against racism, and children’s books about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.

In defense of the ban, one school board member explained the situation to the York Dispatch, “The diversity committee came up with resources and development to help them know how to deal with the subject. And some of us took exception to what they were promoting to the teachers."

Another board member said, “We have diversity — we love it, we enjoy it, we celebrate it, we want it — we're not rejecting that. We're rejecting the one-sided pieces of those resources. It was one-sided teaching."

Lauri Lebo, a representative for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, sees the ban as outrageous and insulting. As she told the York Dispatch, “They’re banning material from 'Sesame Street,' but not David Duke. They’re banning PBS, but not the KKK.”

This ban (or “freeze”) at Central York High School is part of a much larger trend throughout the rest of the country. Campaigns are being led across the U.S. to ban books from schools and even public libraries, usually targeting materials that address the issues of marginalized groups.

These campaigns are part of the ongoing conservative fight against critical race theory (CRT) being introduced in school curriculums. CRT is a relatively niche legal and academic framework that has been around for over 40 years, focused on examining the ways that racism is structurally embedded in society. CRT is not taught in any K-12 schools, but in current political discourse, the advanced legal framework is often conflated with any discussion of racism at all. In other words, CRT is not a radical new curriculum on the rise, it’s more of a conservative rallying cry.

Many groups leading the campaign to ban resources appear to be part of an organized effort to ban books in towns and school districts across the U.S., with ties to wealthy right-wing donors. As Central York teachers told CNN, this campaign is about much more than books and movies. They worry that it’s a war on their profession.