(WHTM) — Pennsylvania is second on a recently published list of states with the highest number of banned books. Across the state, there are a staggering 456 bans across nine districts. Plus, the school district with the most bans across the nation can be found in the Midstate.
A recently released report by free speech group PEN America includes an Index of School Book Bans that documents decisions to ban books in school libraries and classrooms between July 1, 2021, and March 31, 2022.
In that nine-month period, PEN America lists 1,586 instances of individual books banned across the nation, 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.
The bans include, as outlined by the report, “removals of books from school libraries, prohibitions in classrooms, or both, as well as books banned from circulation during investigations resulting from challenges from parents, educators, administrators, board members, or responses to laws passed by legislatures.”
Nationally, Texas leads the list with 713 bans across 16 districts; coming in behind Pennsylvania is Florida with 204 bans from seven districts, and Oklahoma and Kansas round out the list of the top five with 43 and 30 bans, respectively.
Among the titles in the Index, PEN America notes that “467 contain protagonists or prominent secondary characters of color (41%), and 247 directly address issues of race and racism (22%); 379 titles (33%) explicitly address LGBTQ+ themes, or have protagonists or prominent secondary characters who are LGBTQ+; 283 titles contain sexual content of varying kinds (25%), including novels with sexual encounters as well as informational books about 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 bans on the list had involved various departures from best practice guidelines outlined by the National Coalition Against Censorship and the American Library Association, which includes the filing of written, formal challenges by parents or local residents and the formation of review committees.
In 2021, the American Library Association recorded 729 challenges to remove nearly 1,600 books from schools and libraries, which is the highest number of attempted book bans in 20 years.
Just over 40% of the bans in the Index are tied to directives from state officials or elected lawmakers to investigate or remove books in schools. PEN America notes this is a shift in their history of responding to book bans from the usual pattern of book removals requests coming from local community members.
Book banning in schools and libraries was back in the spotlight in Washington D.C. on Thursday, April 8. Four Pennsylvanians were invited to testify in front of members of Congress at the hearing focusing on the “Free speech under attack: Book bans and academic censorship” efforts.
Two of the students who testified are high school students from Central York School District, and that is no coincidence. As previously reported by abc27, a list of bans was released by the district to teachers in August 2021. The ban included books, movies, and websites. Many of the materials on the list were about race and racism and were created by Black authors.
According to PEN America’s report, Central York is the leading district in the nation with the highest number of bans in the index. With 441 bans, the district accounts for nearly 97% of Pennsylvania’s total bans.
Central York’s ban drove national attention thanks to protests and advocacy pushes by local students, parents, and teachers.
Olivia Pituch, a high school student who has been an advocate since August, went to the hearing in Washington, D.C.
“When this list was pushed out as a banned book list, I was appalled. Central, being the second most diverse district in the county, prided itself on diversity,” Pituch said.
Not only were there protests, but a book giveaway took place in September 2021, which led to thousands of books about diversity being placed in the hands of Central York students.
Christina Ellis, who also attended the hearings, said, “The reason why I stood against my school textbook ban was because I didn’t want future African American kids to go through some of the things I went through growing up because of the lack of cultural sensitivity in my schooling experience.”
Ellis says without books that promote diversity, a community can’t expect to continue to grow and be at peace with each other when they can’t understand each other’s differences and respect one another.
To learn more about the ongoing debate on banned books and how PEN America thinks school districts should approach book reconsideration processes, click here.
Disclaimer for report:
One disclaimer to note — the report does not control for the population size of states, nor for the number of school districts within the state. So while Pennsylvania is second on the list, it is also the fifth-largest state by population, which would tend to have more book bans than a state with relatively few people.
Plus, with about 500 school districts in the state, Pennsylvania has a greater chance of having more individual book bans than a state like Florida, which has more people and the same number of counties as Pennsylvania (67), but only one school district in most of its counties.