(NEW YORK)– In response to questions raised about the banning of books in the Central York, PA school district, PEN America issued the following statement:

In fall 2021, a list of books related to diversity and equity were banned from use in the Central York, PA school district’s classrooms. This was made clear in an email sent to teachers in the district in August 2021, which was itself a result of a decision taken by the district’s board in November, 2020. This ban was then rescinded in response to an uproar of opposition from students, teachers, and community members. A full list of the materials on “the diversity resource list” that was banned from classrooms can be found here. It includes hundreds of titles, including the Girls Who Code series, which were part of the ‘List for Learners’ under ‘Anti-Racist Resources.’

The Central York School District has reportedly cited minutes from the November 9, 2020 school board meeting to substantiate its insistence that there was an exemption from the ban for materials on the original list if they were already in use in the district. However, our review of the meeting minutes does not indicate that materials already in use in the district would be exempt from the ban. It is also not clear from the minutes who, if anyone, would have received more specific directions regarding any exceptions to the list of banned materials. What we do know is that in September 2021 The York Dispatch published an August 11, 2021 email sent to Central York high school teachers barring use in classrooms of the materials on the diversity resource list, with no mention of any exceptions. We are not aware that the District disputes this email.

Bans on books in schools violate students’ freedom to read. This is so even when the duration of a ban is limited, and if prohibitions are ultimately temporary, and whether the bans occur in classrooms, or libraries, or both. This is why PEN America includes all such bans in our definition of a book ban. Bans that are at first ‘temporary’ often become permanent, and the status of a book’s availability to students, particularly in the absence of a neutral, established review process, is frequently opaque. The removal of books while they are under review is also a ban, and is contrary to the best practice guidance established by the American Library Association and National Coalition Against Censorship. Every ban limits students’ access to the books in question, and can have a broader chilling effect, including on the work of teachers and librarians. Tracking all bans is essential to understand the scope of restrictions being enacted on books across the country. (For more information, see PEN America’s Frequently Asked Questions on Book Bans.)

Where books are no longer banned from libraries or classrooms, we welcome efforts by school districts to clarify that. PEN America’s reporting focuses on tracking the diminishing access to literature for students, whether those bans last for a limited or indefinite period of time. As we have commented previously, the resort to wholesale bans of long lists of books can encompass individual titles that no one in a district could or would justify banning–and that is one of the precise reasons why this increasingly widespread censorious practice is so troubling in our democracy.

We acknowledge with appreciation the Central York district’s eventual decision to rescind its bans, and commend the Central York students and community members whose efforts led to that reversal.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057