Christina Ellis and Edha Gupta, two seniors at Central York High School in York County, joined state lawmakers at the Capitol on Monday to talk about their successful effort to protest a book ban in their central Pennsylvania school district.
Last week, the district reversed a year-long ban on a list of anti-racism books and educational resources by or about people of color, including children’s books that dealt with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, the Washington Post and other news outlets reported.
The school board’s president, Jane Johnson, told the Post that the board was trying to “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.”
Ellis and Gupta were among the students and community members who protested the ban. Monday’s news conference, which came at the start of national Banned Books Week.
Ellis, the vice president of the Panther Anti-Racist Union, a student group at the high school, said she believed the board had not reversed its ban because it was acting in good faith, but, rather, because it wanted to shutout a nationwide spotlight that had shone on the district over its actions.
Gupta, also a member of the student group, said the victory “empowers me to keep fighting for what is right.” She also discussed her experiences being an Indian-American student, where she did not see faces and experiences that reflected her own highlighted in the district’s curriculum.
The books and resources the district sought to ban help white students become “more cognizant and empathetic,” towards students of color, while those some materials “help students of color learn about their heritage,” she said, adding, “We love this district, and we will never stop providing safe spaces. Our work is not done.”
State lawmakers who spoke at Monday’s press conference each highlighted a book that they said had made a difference to them.
Rep. Donna Bullock, D-Philadelphia, the chairperson of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, discussed a book called “Ghost Boys,” by Jewell Parker Rhodes, that focus on the afterlife of young Black boy who is shot and killed by police. Bullock said her two sons, one in fourth grade, the other in sixth grade, each read the book.
“It was a powerful book for my household,” Bullock said.
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