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Central York students protest school board’s ban on anti-racist teaching materials

The list of books, articles and movies was conceived to create awareness about racism and Black history

  • Gabriela Martínez/WITF
A group Central York High School Students organized a protest against a school board decision to ban a list of diversity resources.

 Gabriela Martinez / WITF

A group Central York High School Students organized a protest against a school board decision to ban a list of diversity resources.

This story was updated to include Central York School Board’s response to the protest.

Edha Gupta, a senior at Central York High School and an executive officer of the Panther Anti-Racist Student Union, has been trying to get her school district to include more diverse education.

At first, the conversations she had with the school board seemed promising.

“It seemed like there was a positive response from the board, acknowledging our concerns and taking it into account that they would try to incorporate some diversity education into the district, eventually, when we talked to them,” Gupta said.

But now, Gupta and her peers are protesting the district’s decision to ban a list of resources that was conceived to create awareness about racism and serve as a tool for students and teachers to educate themselves about Black history.

More than two dozen students have been gathering in front of Central High at 7:15 a.m. each day this week, as school buses arrive and parents drop off their children.

The students organizing the protest are mostly seniors, but they hope their efforts will benefit younger classes.

Gabriela Martinez / WITF

Edha Gupta, member of the Panther Anti-Racist Student Union protesting a diversity resource list ban, reads a speech in front of her school.

“It’s our classrooms, what we’re being taught, it’s the education that we’re learning, so if anything, I think we should have the biggest hand in what we’re learning,” Gupta said. “It hurts me to see my peers learning inaccurate things, or not enough things or a half-right and half-wrong view of history.”

The district began to have talks about an anti-racism curriculum following the death of George Floyd and protests against systemic racism last summer. In August 2020, the district’s Diversity Committee and teachers created a list of books, articles and movies meant to serve as a resource for teaching anti-racism and Black history, Gupta said. The list includes a documentary based on the writings of James Baldwin and anti-racist resources from the National Education Association.

Nkechi Taifa, one of the authors on the banned list, spoke out in an article directed at the district.

“The reason my books were written in the first place was to counteract the one-sidedness that was out there and that I grew up with,” Taifa said in an interview. “No one seems to have had a problem that the only images we saw when I was growing up in the ‘60s were Dick and Jane books.”

Although the list was never meant to be part of the curriculum, the school board voted in November to ban the resources from being taught in the classroom.

That decision came a few months after students, parents and faculty members protested to express dissatisfaction with two board members who spoke out against an anti-racist curriculum. At the beginning of this school year, Principal Ryan Caufman sent out an email alerting school personnel not to use the list or resources in class, the York Dispatch reported.

In response to the protest, Jane Johnson, Central York school board president, said in a statement that a “significant portion” of parents raised concerns about the resource list, saying some things on the list are polarizing. Johnson said the school board members decided to “freeze” the use of the resources in November 2020 “pending restoration of the Board curriculum-oversight mechanism.” She said the board as a whole embraces diversity and diversity of thought, but believes education should not include “indoctrination from any political or social agenda.”

Veronica Gemma, a board member, said last November that the resources create division and make White children feel bad about themselves.

Christina Ellis, one of the students organizing the current protest against the resources ban, said she feels she does not learn enough about Black history in school.

“I can tell you personally, by taking history classes at the school district, the slavery unit, and ‘60s unit with Martin Luther King is probably the shortest unit you will find in the history class,” Ellis said.

Patty Jackson, a 12th-grade English teacher, says she has never seen such a ban during her 14 years at the school.

“I said this to a child — history is written by the winners, and they suppress what they don’t want to come to light and they write what they want everyone to know,” Jackson said. “When you start to shift that closer towards the truth, people start to bristle and become uncomfortable. And that’s exactly what is happening.”

Diversity initiatives are not new at the district. Central York School District launched a Diversity Education Program in 2007.

The students who have been protesting all week plan to gather again on Monday. The group will reevaluate next steps if there is no response from the school board in a meeting scheduled for that evening.

Central York School District school board did not reply to a request for comment.

Gabriela Martínez is part of the “Report for America” program — a national service effort that places journalists in newsrooms across the country to report on under-covered topics and communities.

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