Pennsylvania school district accused of banning Girls Who Code book series

Pen America says Central York school district’s 2021 ban list included coding titles, but officials say material no longer banned

A school district in Pennsylvania temporarily banned the Girls Who Code book series for young readers, according to an index of banned books compiled by the free expression non-profit, Pen America.

The books are four of more than 1,500 unique book titles that have been banned by various schools across the country after conservative pushes to censor books. According to a report released by Pen America in April, 138 school districts across 32 states have banned books from their classrooms and school libraries, sometimes temporarily, even if only for a day, sometimes on an ongoing basis.

A recent update to Pen America’s banned book index included the Central York school district in Pennsylvania as banning the books The Friendship Code, Team BFF: Race to the Finish!, Lights, Music, Code! and Spotlight on Coding Club! They were among a suggested new list of more diverse teaching resources that ended up being suspended.

A statement from officials in that district on Monday strongly denied that they had banned the book series, and called “categorically false” information in a Business Insider interview with the founder of Girls Who Code, which reported the ban on the series. “This book series has not been banned, and they remain available in our libraries,” the statement said.

Business Insider subsequently reported a district spokesperson as confirming that the ban was in place for 10 months, ending in September 2021.

The Central York district last year received national attention after reports revealed the school district board banned in November 2020 a resource list – which included further lists of suggested classroom material and books for children like the Girls Who Code book series – that had been created by the district’s diversity committee earlier that year. A coalition of students and parents successfully pushed the district to rescind its ban in September 2021 after public pressure.

In a statement explaining the banning of the diverse resources, the school district’s board president at the time, Jane Johnson, said: “What we are attempting to do is balance legitimate academic freedom with what could be literature/materials that are too activist in nature, and may lean more toward indoctrination rather than age-appropriate academic content.”

The Girls Who Code series features a group of girls who become friends in their school’s coding club. The series is in partnership with Girls Who Code, a non-profit that runs computer coding clubs and programming in schools for girls.

The CEO and founder of Girls Who Code, Reshma Saujani, expressed her anger over the series being banned.

“We use these stories to teach kids to code,” Saujani told Business Insider. “It felt very much like a direct attack on the movement we’ve been building to get girls coding.

“This is an opportunity to realize how big this movement is against our kids and how much we need to fight.”

Aggressive campaigns to ban books in schools and libraries across the country have flared up amid so-called culture wars in the last two years. While campaigns to ban books have always existed in the US, the movement gained momentum in 2021 when conservatives took aim at the academic “critical race” theory and turned it into a buzzword, while also peddling disinformation to stoke fears of liberal ideals being taught in classrooms.

According to Pen America’s banned books report, many of the titles being banned deal with LGBTQ+ themes or have non-white characters. The organization estimates that more than 300 groups, including local chapters of national organizations like Moms for Liberty, have been pushing for book bans. The groups have gained large traction through social media, where lists of titles have circulated.

The campaigns try to deflect accusations of racism and bigotry by claiming they are targeting material that is offensive or inappropriate for children.

Pen America estimates that 41% of banned books deal with LGBTQ+ themes while 40% have protagonists or secondary characters who are people of color.

An author of one of the Girls Who Code books, Jo Whittemore, said on Twitter: “Some people choose not to focus on how awesome and empowering and inspiring these books are but instead choose fear.”

  • This article was amended on 26 and 29 September 2022 to clarify details about the nature of the book ban in this case; the sequence of events in 2020 and 2021; and the school district’s confirmation of the 10-month ban.


Lauren Aratani

The GuardianTramp

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