(WHTM) – Pennsylvania is second on a recently released list of states with the most books banned. Statewide, there are a staggering 456 bans in nine districts. Additionally, the school district with the most bans across the country is in the Midstate.
A newly released report by free speech group PEN America includes a School Book Ban Index that documents decisions to ban books from school libraries and classrooms between July 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022. .
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During this nine-month period, PEN America lists 1,586 cases of individual books banned across the country, affecting 1,145 unique book titles, 874 different authors, 198 illustrators and nine translators. The bans come from 86 school districts, representing 2,899 schools, in 26 different states.
Bans include, as the report points out, “removals of books from school libraries, bans from classrooms, or both, as well as books banned from circulation during investigations resulting from challenges by parents, educators, administrators, board members or responses to laws passed by legislatures.
Nationally, Texas leads the list with 713 bans in 16 districts; behind Pennsylvania is Florida with 204 bans from seven districts, and Oklahoma and Kansas round out the top five list with 43 and 30 bans, respectively.
Of the titles in the Index, PEN America notes that “467 contain prominent protagonists or supporting characters of color (41%) and 247 deal directly with issues of race and racism (22%); 379 titles (33%) explicitly address LGBTQ+ themes, or have prominent protagonists or supporting characters who are LGBTQ+; 283 titles contain sexual content of various types (25%), including novels with sexual encounters as well as informational books on puberty, sex or relationships. There are 184 titles (16%) that are history books or biographies. Another 107 titles have themes related to rights and activism (9%).
PEN America also found that 98% of the prohibitions on the list involved various departures from the best practice guidelines outlined by the National Coalition Against Censorship and the American Library Association, which include the filing of formal written challenges by parents or local residents and the establishment of review boards.
In 2021, the American Library Association recorded 729 challenges to remove nearly 1,600 books from schools and libraries, representing the highest number of book ban attempts in 20 years.
Just over 40% of Index bans are related to directives from state officials or elected lawmakers to investigate or remove books from schools. PEN America notes that this is a change in their history of responding to book bans from the usual pattern of requests to remove books from local community members.
Banning books in schools and libraries was back in the spotlight in Washington DC on Thursday, April 8. Four Pennsylvanians were asked to testify before members of Congress at the hearing on “Free Speech Under Attack: Book Bans and Academic Censorship.” efforts.
Two of the students who testified are high school students from the Central York School District, and that is no coincidence. As previously reported by abc27, a ban list was released by the district to teachers in August 2021. The ban included books, movies, and websites. Many of the documents on the list were about race and racism and were created by black authors.
According to the PEN America report, Central York is the top district in the nation with the most bans in the index. With 441 bans, the district accounts for nearly 97% of Pennsylvania’s total bans.
The Central York ban drew national attention thanks to protests and advocacy pressure from local students, parents and teachers.
Olivia Pituch, a high school student who has been a lawyer since August, traveled to the hearing in Washington, D.C.
“When this list was presented as a banned book list, I was appalled. Central, being the second most diverse district in the county, prides itself on its diversity,” Pituch said.
Not only were there protests, but a book giveaway took place in September 2021, which led to thousands of diversity books being given to Central York students.
Christina Ellis, who also attended the hearings, said: “The reason I objected to having my textbooks banned was because I didn’t want future African American children to go through some of the things that I experienced growing up because of the lack of cultural sensitivity in my school experience.
Ellis says that without books that promote diversity, a community cannot expect to continue to grow and be at peace with each other when they cannot understand each other’s differences and respect each other.
To learn more about the ongoing debate over banned books and how PEN America thinks school districts should approach book review processes, click here.
Disclaimer for the report:
One disclaimer to note – the report does not take into account the size of the states’ populations, nor the number of school districts within the state. So while Pennsylvania is second on the list, it’s also the fifth-largest state by population, which would tend to have more book bans than a state with relatively few residents.
Also, with about 500 school districts in the state, Pennsylvania is more likely to have more individual book bans than a state like Florida, which has more people and the same number of counties as Pennsylvania (67), but a single school district in most of its counties.