Pennsylvania school district reverses ban on books by authors of colour

The Central York school board has gone back on its decision to bar a list of titles by or about people of colour from being used as educational resources

A wide-ranging ban on books in a southern Pennsylvania school district has been reversed following widespread protests and criticism.

The ban, which was implemented last October by the Central York school board, focused almost entirely on titles by or about people of colour, with a lengthy list of works by acclaimed authors including Jacqueline Woodson, Ijeoma Oluo and Ibram X Kendi all prohibited. Teachers were informed that titles including Malala Yousafzai’s autobiography and children’s books about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr were also banned, along with articles and videos, including a documentary about the writing of James Baldwin.

While school officials told CNN the educational resources were not banned, rather “frozen” while the board vetted them, the situation continued for almost a year. One teacher, who chose to remain anonymous, described the ban as “disgusting” to local paper the York Dispatch, adding: “Let’s just call it what it is – every author on that list is a Black voice.”

Jane Johnson, the school board president, told CNN in a statement that it was just a coincidence that almost all the material banned by the all-white school board was by or about people of colour, adding: “Concerns were based on the content of the resources, not the author or topic.”

While some local parents supported the ban – one told CNN that “I don’t want my daughter growing up feeling guilty because she’s white” – students mobilised against it, protesting in front of the school. Two local women, meanwhile, called for book donations so they could put the banned titles in Little Free Libraries around York. They have collected thousands of books so far.

Yesterday, the school board voted unanimously to reinstate the list of books immediately, the York Dispatch reported. “We speak and listen to parents and community members to better understand and address concerns,” said board member Jodi Grothe, according to the York Dispatch. “We have heard you.”

Brad Meltzer, whose picture book I am Rosa Parks was one of the banned titles, said he sat in the virtual Central York school board meeting “to stop this book ban”, and read the board his titles I am Rosa Parks and I am Dr King to the board. “When you’re banning Dr King and Rosa Parks, you’re on the wrong side of history,” said Meltzer.

“This fight is not over,” said the Central York Banned Book Club, which has been covering the banned titles on Twitter. “The board only gave in because of an incredible amount of pressure. They’re going to retreat for now, lick their wounds and regroup. We will still be here posting books from that list and keeping a vigilant eye on them. We will never forget.”

• This article was amended on 24 September 2021 to correct the spelling of Ijeoma Oluo’s first name.


Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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