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Pa. students testify about book bans in their school districts, as Congress takes on the issue

National groups and parents are challenging books at a pace not seen in decades, prompting Congress to hold a hearing about the rise in book ban efforts.

WASHINGTON D.C., DC — The battle over books is taking center stage at the nation’s Capitol. The U.S. House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties held a hearing Thursday about the ongoing efforts to remove books from classrooms and public libraries.

Book challenges and bans are nothing new, but the rate at which they are flaring up across the country marks a new chapter in the history of attempted book bans. Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin said the current efforts to ban books are part of a broader attack on free speech in the classroom that amounts to educational censorship.

“Many books are being targeted for censorship these days simply because they address racism or white supremacy as historical or sociological realities or address human sexuality or LGBTQ issues because the protagonist or author is gay or a person of color,” said U.S. Rep. Raskin, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

National groups are challenging books at a pace not seen in decades. A group called No Left Turn in Education keeps a list of books it says are used to “spread radical and racist ideologies to students,” including Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” and children’s book “Chocolate Me” by Taye Diggs and Shane Evans.

The Central York School District had initially prohibited teachers from using a list of materials—books, articles and films—that focused on issues like diversity and racism until the board could conduct a thorough review of the materials.

Board members asserted that it was not a ban, but rather a “freeze” on the materials until they could be properly vetted. However, high school students felt the school board vote—which was later overturned—deliberately targeted people of color and the LGTBQ community.

Christina Ellis, a high school student in the Central York School District, testified at Thursday’s congressional hearing that these book bans are silencing voices and erasing history.

“In elementary school when the teacher would put a documentary on about slavery, some kids would turn around and stare at me, the only black girl in the classroom,” said Ellis. “Books that highlight our differences and teach others how to address diversity are crucial. These books shouldn’t be up for debate.”

Parents behind the bans in Pennsylvania tell FOX43 Reveals that this is an issue of parental control and they feel that they are being vilified for wanting a say in their child’s education.

One book repeatedly drawing fire is Gender Queer, a memoir by Maia Kobabe that explores gender identity and grapples with how to come out to family and society. The Young Adult graphic novel is often targeted because it contains sexually explicit photos and dialogue.

“Gender Queer and Lawn Boy are so graphic that parents reading them at school board meetings have repeatedly been stopped because the content is so obscene. When school board members judge content too hot for adults to handle, it isn’t censorship to remove them from school libraries. It’s their responsibility,” said Dr. Jonathan Pidluzny, Vice President of Academic Affairs for the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.

Samantha Hull, a librarian in Lancaster County, said books are disappearing from shelves without any formal complaints from parents.

“Open-minded communication is not fostered when we start making individual, monolithic or one-sided decisions—especially without trained librarians’ input about books based on out-of-context readings,” Hull testified.

In 2021, the American Library Association (ALA) recorded 729 challenges to remove nearly 1,600 books from school and public libraries—the highest number of attempted book bans in the 20 years that the ALA has tracked this data. 

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