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Central York’s school board will vote on updating its book review policy

The district is facing scrutiny again after removing two books from the high school library.

  • 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.

Note: This story has been updated with information regarding complaints against the novel “Push.”

Central York School District in York County, which made headlines in 2021 for banning a list of anti-racism resources,  faces backlash again for removing two books from the high school library. 

The books in the middle of the controversy are the novel “Push,” by Sapphire – a first-person account of an illiterate 16-year-old girl who is sexually abused and impregnated by her father – and “A Court of Mist and Fury,” by Sarah J. Maas,  a young-adult fantasy novel that has erotic themes and depictions of sex. 

Another book, “Sold,” by Patricia McCormick, which deals with child sex trafficking, was also challenged. It, however, remains in the library, according to Nicole Montgomery, the district’s director of communications and marketing. 

Superintendent Peter Aiken said in a statement that a committee consisting of two administrators, two classroom teachers, and a librarian made the decision to remove “Push” because “the text lacks quality literary structure and standards” and it contains sexual content. The committee also deemed “Push” not appropriate for independent reading – meaning that it should not be read without the guidance of a teacher.

The committee was formed in accordance with a policy that outlines a review process every time a parent or guardian challenges a book in the library or curriculum being used in a classroom.

The three books were challenged between November and January, according to the district.

The district did not say who asked the books to be removed.

Lois Kaneshiki – a conservative activist and former director of No Left Turn in Education – wrote a celebratory post on a “Take Back Our School PA” Facebook group.

“We were advised that the book Push by Sapphire has been removed from the Central SD library in York. It’s a nasty book. Congratulations Rhonda Garman. We have it in Cumberland Valley and it is in many school districts.”

Garman is the chapter chair of York County’s Moms for Liberty– a right-wing group leading book challenges in nearby counties. She said she challenged “Push.” Garman said she hopes the district will continue to remove what she considers “not age-appropriate” material from the district.

 “The last thing we need to be fighting and worrying about is whether or not we’re going to have sexually explicit material in our school districts, that shouldn’t even be a conversation. It should just be common sense,” said Garman, who also wants the district to focus on making sure students are reading at grade level.

On June 11, the York Dispatch reported that the formal complaint against “Push” was filed by school board candidate Faith Casale.

The student-led Panther Anti-Racist Union at Central York is once again organizing to demand more transparency from the school when it comes to their decisions to remove books. Back in 2021, a smaller cohort of students opposed the school board decision to prohibit a variety of anti-racism books and materials from being used in the district’s classrooms.

The group is not planning a protest, but will lead a social media push using the hashtags “Enough is Enough CYSD,” Push Back,” and “Push Against Book Bans.”  The students will also wear red  — the color of the “Push” book cover – on certain days and while speaking out at upcoming school board meetings.

Renee Ellis, a senior and president of the Panther Anti-Racist Union, said the main goal is to ensure students have a say in decisions to remove books or label certain material as “inappropriate.”

“It’s a little concerning that they’re stripping away resources like this because most kids don’t even know the book was removed, and they didn’t know that we had it, because teachers weren’t promoting it,” Ellis said. 

The group also wants to see more ethnic and racial representation on the committee that reviews book challenges and makes decisions on pulling books from libraries or discontinuing curricula.

Aiken said the district is revising its policy that allows parents to challenge books. The board plans to vote on changes March 27. One change would require parents or guardians to speak with the teacher and the building principal before submitting a challenge to  books or curriculum materials. 

The current policy requires parents or guardians to submit book challenges in writing to the building principal and assistant superintendent, who then form a committee “made up of administrators and faculty members whose areas of expertise would have a direct bearing on the issue,” according to the district.

Aiken also said the district plans to create a rating system to identify titles in the library that “might contain material not all families are comfortable with.” Once that rating system is established, the district will run the three challenged books through the new process.

Additionally, there would be an opportunity for parents to “opt out of what their child is reading in the library,” Montgomery said.

“I think, if anything,” Montgomery said, “this process has shown us that, as much as we think that we’re being transparent with certain things, there are other areas that we need to continue to develop systems and put things in place, so that our community is informed.”

Former Panther Anti- Racist Union student members Edha Gupta and Olivia Pituch are watching this latest controversy unfold from afar while they navigate their first year of college. They led the protests in 2021 against the school board’s decision to scrap a list of anti-racism resources that were compiled by teachers following the George Floyd police brutality protests in 2020. That ban was later rescinded following community protests. 

Gupta, who is studying neuroscience and sociology at the University of Pittsburgh, said it is important to keep amplifying the stories of students who do not feel seen or heard in the district, and to not feel afraid to speak about topics that are taboo.

“There is so much pain in my heart right now for the students that can access resources that they need at home, and come to school to access these resources, but can’t find them in their libraries or can’t talk to anybody about them,” Gupta said.

Pituch, who is studying political science at Elizabethtown College, testified last year in a congressional hearing on free speech and book bans. She said limiting students’ access to difficult topics, such as rape and racist violence, can lead to a “really rough transition” from high school to college curriculum.

“So far I am in my first year of college and I have had some heavy graphic explicit material in college,” she said. “In classes, I have to be able to openly talk about pretty serious stuff, serious issues. And, like, bans and restrictions without the opinion of parents and teachers and students weighing in, causes so much damage, it hinders our emotional and social growth so much.”


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