By Edha Gupta
Recently, the Central York School District board of directors decided to ban a diversity resource list that would otherwise be accessible to teachers in classrooms, only to rescind the banned list after a series of student-led protests and local and national press attention. This list includes books published by Scholastic, books written by Nobel Peace Prize winners and former presidents. The one continuous factor? All of these books either include main characters of color or are written by people of color.
This ban was not only an infringement on the education of all students growing up in this district – from kindergarteners to seniors – but also showed blatant disrespect for the students of color in this district, denying their experiences and ancestry a part in the curriculum. The students have had no voice in their own education, and I am an example.
In March 2021, I sat down in many Zoom discussions with different members of the board. In these meetings, I was hopeful to lend a diplomatic perspective of my experiences with discrimination in this district, after their hurtful comments on diversity. I explained how more diversity education needs to be incorporated, especially in the elementary levels, and naively had hope for the future after those conversations. I also recommended that an African American Studies course be offered to students eager to learn about possibly their own, and their peers', history. It seemed as though those heavy, vulnerable conversations didn’t register.
I found out in the beginning of this school year that resources – most from the elementary schools – were banned. My shock, disappointment, and anger showed that the board - elected to act in the students’ best interests – didn’t care about their students.
Additionally, it took almost a full year from when discussion of this started to when students found out. Why were the students incapable of speaking up on their own education? If this ban is permanently adopted, as it still could be since the board plans to conduct further review of the materials, young children of color growing up in the second-most diverse district in York County will not be able to find someone like them in the library, they will have one less place to learn of their ancestry, and they will never feel like they belong in this Central community, like I never did. I am standing for those soon-to-be Central graduates who are robbed of knowing themselves.
School is a place for education and growth. Students come to school to discover new things about their communities and themselves. How does the board expect Central students to grow when they are educated on a partial, obscured, whitewashed understanding of the history of America? The board is putting their comfort – their “wants'' -- before the needs of their students.
After 12 years in this district, I am not going to stand down. I am standing up so that young kids won’t have to face the same difficulty appreciating their roots and identity, like I did growing up Indian American in this district. I am standing with my student body everyday through peaceful protests, interviews, and advocacy. This issue is not political, but moral, and I will not rest until I see the reversal of this ban before this district becomes my alma mater. Enough is enough, CYSD.
Edha Gupta is a senior at Central York High School and a member of the school’s Panther Anti Racist Union. An earlier version of this piece originally appeared in the York Dispatch.
To hear more from Edha, two of her classmates, and two teachers, listen to this episode of Speaking Freely With the ACLU of PA.