Bucks County Beacon reader Ken Miller reached out to me Sunday morning asking if I had read The Bucks County Courier Times/The Intelligencer editorial on the Central Bucks School District’s new book banning policy. I hadn’t, yet, but I was pretty sure I had just found what I was going to write about today.
“Are you sure the PR firm didn’t write this?” the Central Bucks East alumni asked.
He also said it amounted to putting lipstick on a pig.
After reading the editorial, he was right about one of his assertions.
To begin with, the newspapers’ editors, if they believe in the 1st Amendment, should have as an institution stated its strong opposition in an editorial to this censorship policy before it was voted on and ultimately passed by the majority members of the school board. That didn’t happen, of course.
And speaking of the school board majority, this leads to the newspapers’ too little, too late editorial’s first major problem: it takes the politics out of what is a very political situation.
This isn’t surprising.
I’ve raised alarms about the two newspapers’ refusal to call out Republican extremism so much that I must sound like a broken record, but I am going to keep playing this song until they finally stop this journalistic malpractice.
And let’s be clear, this is not the editorial board staying above the fray, it is them obscuring it.
You’d have to be living under a rock to not know that the campaign to ban books — and it is a national, coordinated, and well-funded campaign — is a Republican political crusade. A campaign in which the Central Bucks school board is a ready and enthusiastic participant, although you wouldn’t know it from reading the editorial.
On the one hand, the editorial states, “Those who don’t like the decision can — and should — go to their calendars and circle Nov. 7, 2023 — the date of the next school board general election.”
On the other hand, it keeps voters in the dark about who is responsible. I’ll go ahead and inform you. These are the far-right Republican board members who voted for the book banning policy: Dana Hunter, Sharon Collopy, Jim Pepper, Leigh Vlasblom, Lisa Sciscio, and Debra Cannon.
Three of these school board members, Pepper, Sciscio, and Cannon, were proudly endorsed by the Proud American Patriots Network, the local Three Percent militia behind the Woke PA book banning website from which a few pro-censorship parents have taken their cues. Furthermore, Sciscio and Cannon are also part of Moms for Liberty, the far-right astroturf group that not only wants to ban books (like Slaughterhouse-Five which they successfully got removed from classrooms and libraries in one Florida school district), but also, and more importantly, wants to dismantle the country’s public education system.
Furthermore, Cannon actually believes “there are demonic adults recruiting, brainwashing, and participating in unconscionable behaviors with children” and has compared Diversity, Equity, and Inclusions and Transformative Social and Emotional Learning to Nazism. The Courier Times refused to report on, editorialize, or condemn these public positions when Cannon was a candidate. Had it, maybe she wouldn’t have been elected. But it confirms her thinking, as it is similar to the right-wing school board majority’s few, and loud supporters of this book banning policy who have accused librarians and teachers of “grooming” kids through books.
This context matters. And by not informing, or reminding readers of it, the newspapers are doing their readers a disservice.
It also taints the rest of the editorial.
What it does is put lipstick on this censorship policy and provides advice to the Republican majority members of the school board so they can “quiet its critics, particularly those in the LGBTQ community” and “allay concerns that objections to library books are coming from crusading zealots with little connection to the schools.”
Note to critics: Don’t ever quiet down because we already know that a majority of the books targeted are by LGBTQ authors or about LGBTQ topics and the “objections to library books are coming from crusading zealots,” on the school board or from the public.
The policy is not needed, something completely lost on the editorial board. Parents already have the ability to opt their kids out from having access to certain books without creating a new policy that makes the decision for other parents and kids. Librarians are also already employed in the libraries to make decisions about what books are needed and useful and which are age appropriate for different schools.
Calls for transparency do nothing to stop this crusading school board majority who won’t even admit who wrote the policy, nor does it serve the public, who already know what books, or what types of books, are being targeted. Creating a list of “untouchable” classics is also a half measure that discriminates against more modern literature that provides greater representation to traditionally marginalized students. Calls for an “apolitical” review committee by a superintendent who is not an independent actor in this, and who can not be trusted to take a neutral position, is a fool’s errand. His co-authored OpEd with Hunter, the lies in it, his freezing out of minority board members from what he is doing behind the scenes with Hunter, and his decision to ban LGBTQ Pride flags from classrooms are just a few examples of his biases.
One thing Superintendent Abram Lucabaugh wrote in his oped with Hunter which the Courier Times forgot to fact check was, “Some have misinterpreted that the new policy has been crafted to remove books from libraries…In fact, the policy is about creating processes for acquiring new books and for giving parents an avenue to challenge a book they would prefer their child/ren not read.”
If a book is successfully challenged it is either removed from a purchase list or removed from the shelves and it is never coming back (unless the policy is changed).
Here’s what the policy states:
“Furthermore, material removed pursuant to the challenge process will not be returned to the library without meeting the criteria for selection as outlined in this policy. The District shall verify previous decisions prior to convening a reconsideration committee. The complainant may appeal the decision of the district-level library supervisor or Superintendent’s designees to the Board of School Directors.”
This answers the Courier Times’s suggestion that “the district should also specifically outline the committee’s reconsideration process.”
The policy as approved currently reads that the book would have to be rewritten, edited, or have passages or pages removed in order to return.
The policy also states, and which the Courier Times neglected to flag, that “non-fiction resources should incorporate accurate and authentic factual content.” This is an Orwellian slippery slope, especially given the ideological and political extremism of those involved.
The Courier Times may have had the best of intentions when writing their editorial, but what it ends up doing is defending the indefensible and providing cover for other school districts, like Pennridge, to do the same.