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York teachers must be free to teach race

An Oscar-nominated documentary on James Baldwin. A letter from the executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators. A coloring book of African Adrinkra symbols. Materials from the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Teachers in Central York School District aren’t allowed to introduce any of these to their students, along with four pages of other books, videos, websites and articles.

These are materials the district’s diversity committee reportedly recommended in 2020 to help teachers dealing with questions about race while the committee was working on new social studies curriculum looking at the role race plays in our culture.

It appears the school board turned that list into a ban — and now teachers are afraid to teach children in the second most diverse district in the county about the history that Black people and other people of color have lived in this country.

“This is disgusting,” said one Central York teacher, who requested anonymity to protect his job, said. “Let’s just call it what it is — every author on that list is a Black voice.”

The ban on these materials is part of the continued fallout from last summer’s Central York school board debacle that saw the board reject social studies curriculum produced by the district that was designed to examine diversity and racism in society after two members decided it was too focused on white privilege and didn’t acknowledge the value of police.

That discussion continued for several months at board meetings, ending with the ban on these materials.

These were not materials that were in the curriculum, by the way. These were articles and websites, among other things, that teachers were given to help them with potentially difficult questions from students.

And even without a new social studies curriculum, students will continue to ask difficult questions, especially as we as a country work to sort out the systemic racism that has created our society.

These are not problems that are going away. If anything, they are becoming more pronounced as the United States produces its first trillionaires, all white men, while people of color have been the hardest hit by the pandemic and thousands of families face eviction.

They become pronounced every time a Black person is pulled over for a minor traffic infraction and ends up in handcuffs and every time a Latino person must explain they were born in this country, too.

Children notice and they question. It’s the duty of parents and educators to inform them, give them facts and be truthful, even if that truth is uncomfortable.

The Central York school board is making it harder for its teachers to be truthful with their students by taking away materials that can help explain the history that has shaped their world.

Lauri Lebo, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said she wondered if the Central York school board members knew exactly what the books and videos that were banned had to say.

“We are concerned that the ban on these materials without offering any credible alternatives will create a chilling effect on teachers being able to teach anything about race — the history of slavery, the Civil Rights Movement or Brown v. Board of Education,” Lebo said in an email.

One teacher at Central York High School, who requested to remain anonymous, shared similar concerns.

“You have Black children who want to learn about themselves, and now teachers who live in fear of presenting that information to them,” the teacher said. “This targets Black people, and now my concern is you have teachers afraid to teach.”

No district should put teachers in that position. It’s time for Central York to revisit and reverse this decision.

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