'A slap in the face': Central York students protest ban on diversity resources

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Tina Locurto | York Dispatch | 10:32 am EST January 14, 2022

Cars full of parents honked and cheered as a crowd of  students and teachers displayed handmade signs just as the sun was rising on a brisk Wednesday morning.

The students gathered in defiance of a Central York School District decision  to ban a list of books, movies and teaching materials  — primarily by creators of color — from use by teachers in the district.

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For many of the school district’s population who are students of color, it’s personal — including for Edha Gupta, a high school senior who helped organize the protest at the high school. 

“I think it’s gotten to a point where we need a physical demonstration to show how we feel about the board’s actions,” Gupta said. “They seemed supportive of the (proposed diversity curriculum), and I came to later find out they had banned these resources, which was kind of a slap in the face.”

The four-page list, sent to high school teachers by Central York High School Principal Ryan Caufman on Aug. 11, names articles, videos and books from some of today's most acclaimed creators of color.

Central York High School students protest the school's ban on books and other teaching materials by black and Hispanic authors during a rally outside the school Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021. The Panther Anti-Racist Union–a student organization–organized the protest which they say will occur daily until Sept. 13, the date of the next district school board meeting. Bill Kalina photo
Bill Kalina, The York Dispatch

It includes the Oscar-nominated PBS documentary "I Am Not Your Negro" about writer James Baldwin; a statement on racism from the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators; and a children's coloring book that featured African Adrinkra symbols found in fabrics, logos and pottery.

That ban was actually the product of a unanimous school board decision last November that itself followed an earlier series of discussions in August and September 2020 about whether to approve social studies curriculum inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement.

School board President Jane Johnson said last September that the pilot program, which the board tabled in August 2020 over disagreements with its teachings on white privilege, would remain tabled until further notice.

In October, however, discussions surrounding the tabled curriculum and diversity list resurfaced.

More: 'Afraid to teach': School's book ban targeted Black, Latino authors

Gupta said she was involved during the time when the pilot curriculum was suggested, speaking aloud during several Zoom sessions about her experiences as a student of color.

On Wednesday, Gupta stood alongside senior Christina Ellis, who said she was outraged and shocked after she found out about the school board’s decision.

“What is so harmful?” Ellis said on Wednesday morning. “What is so threatening about worrying about racism and diversity?”

Julie Randall Romig, a spokesperson for the Central York School District, said last week that the list of banned materials is separate from the tabled curriculum. 

Organizer and Central York High School student Edha Gupta holds a sign during a protest of the school's ban on books and other teaching materials by black and Hispanic authors during a rally outside the school Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021. The Panther Anti-Racist Union–a student organization–organized the protest which they say will occur daily until Sept. 13, the date of the next district school board meeting. Bill Kalina photo
Bill Kalina, The York Dispatch

"It was a separate list of resources created by our diversity education committee," Romig said in a written statement. "The committee members were sharing resources with one another that could be helpful in educating themselves and in supporting our diverse student population at different times."

The student protests will continue at 7:15 every morning, before the school day, through Monday, which is when the district’s board meets. Students, like Gupta, plan on attending to speak their minds and reevaluate how to move forward from the ban.

Romig did not respond to a request for comment by deadline on Wednesday.

As students descended off buses onto Central’s campus Wednesday morning, students like Olivia Pituch urged her  peers to join the protest.

“I’m white — I’ve never faced racism in this district,” Pituch said. “But I’ve seen what racism does to my friends, and I’ve seen them face microaggressions throughout their life and constantly be put down by comments."

Upon hearing the news regarding the resource ban, Pituch said she looked over the list herself and thought it contained helpful documents to identify racism and microaggressions.

She, like Gupta and Ellis, agrees that as seniors it is their collective responsibility to look out for the younger students who deserve a “fair education.”

“For all the younger kids coming up, I think these resources are vital because it teaches them how to embrace themselves and how to face racism,” Pituch said. “It can really help our district.”

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.

Originally Published 12:56 pm EDT September 8, 2021
Updated 10:32 am EST January 14, 2022
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