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Coalition fights back against book bans, discrimination in Pa. schools

  • Scott LaMar

Aired; January 24th, 2024.


Polarization over racial justice, transgender rights, books and history in schools and other issues are characteristics of the nation’s culture wars. The battleground for many of these issues is increasingly close to home in school districts where school boards are making decisions about whether transgender athletes who identify as female can participate on girls’ sports teams or how the role of African-Americans in history is taught in the classroom.

A coalition of some 20 advocacy groups called Welcoming and Inclusive Schools or PA WinS has formed to fight policies they deem as attacks on diversity or non-inclusivity.

We were joined on The Spark Wednesday by two representatives of organizations in the coalition and a parent. With us are Alex Domingos, an advocacy and policy strategist from the American Civil Liberties Union, Sharon Ward, Senior Policy Advisor with the Education Law Center and Adam Hosey, a community member from Manheim Township, Lancaster County.

ACLU’s Alex Domingos and Manheim Township parent Adam Hosey

Ward talked about why the organizations formed a coalition,”The groups that came together, came together kind of in an emergency situation. What was

Sharon Ward, Education LawCnter

happening was at the local level, parents who are facing and hearing that school board policies that they found to be extreme. I’m really surprised to hear about things like book bans, things like efforts to prevent teachers from hanging flags (like) save the whales in their classrooms. And parents reached out to a number of organizations for help to understand what was happening, to understand their rights, and to get some help working with their school boards to change these policies.”

Ward was asked what PA WinS will actually do,”We have a number of groups that Sharon Ward, Education Law Centerwill work with parents on the ground to answer the questions, to help them look through the policies and identify what the changes are and where those are harmful or, illegal. We will provide ACLU and Ed Law Center, for example, will assist individual parents and students at the school board level, and provide legal representation. There are each of our organizations also has brought complaints with the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights. So we have a legal route. We have a parent support route. And, we have a public education route. We want people to understand the impact of these things.”

Many of the people who are attending school board meetings and criticizing books they believe to be offensive or disagree with a school’s curriculum or how a subject is addressed in the classroom are parents. Domingos was asked about parents having rights to speak up,”We always encourage folks to be involved in the political process, use their voice and advocate. And that’s a big part of what the coalition works on. So we encourage any interested parents or taxpayers, community members to pay attention to school board meetings. A lot of them are streamed online or if you’re able to attend in person, to certainly do so. There’s a lot of great organizations in the coalition that, can get folks comfortable with advocacy. We recommend making it a fun thing if you can bringing your friends and family members along, because as taxpayers, you have a voice, you’re allowed to advocate, you’re allowed to speak your piece. And I think that the more scrutiny gets placed on school boards, a lot of these issues can be detected. And if you find that your school board is engaging in anti inclusive education policies, your voice is kind of the basic, tool you have to advocate against us.”



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