Representatives of groups supporting education in Pennsylvania this week announced the formal launch of a new coalition to fight extremist policies in schools across the commonwealth.
The groups involved in Pennsylvanians for Welcoming and Inclusive Schools, or PA WInS, include the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania School Counselors Association, the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association, Planned Parenthood, and Red Wine & Blue. They formed the beginnings of the coalition in October 2022; however, Tuesday marked the first time the coalition came together for a public announcement of its members’ work together, which took place on Zoom.
“This effort is really a response to book bans and censorship, discriminatory policies being introduced, trans exclusion policies, and other policies that aim to stifle speech or expression,” said Alex Domingos, advocacy and policy strategist for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “And it really began with the parents and students and school staff who were shocked and taken off guard by how quickly and intently school boards moved to pass these very similar measures.”
Much of the needed work involves educating parents and other members of the community, said Adam Hosey, himself a parent in Lancaster County.
“Parents already have rights in our districts in Pennsylvania. So when we’re talking about me as a parent, I’m able to opt my child out of information, curriculum, books that I don’t want them to read,” Hosey said. “But no parent should have the right to opt every child out of that book or curriculum.”
The new coalition says Pennsylvania is “ground zero for extremist policies attacking public education.”
It does not take long to find examples of what they are talking about. In the last election cycle, voters in the Pennridge School District in Bucks County replaced conservative school board members with liberal and moderate candidates following allegations of secret book bans, the hiring of a conservative consulting firm to make recommendations for social studies curriculum, and a federal discrimination complaint about the district’s practices toward minority and LGBTQ+ students.
In the nearby Central Bucks School District, voters flipped their school board to a Democratic majority after it made headlines for considering book bans — although in one of its last acts, the outgoing conservative board there gave a $700,000 payout to the superintendent who enforced its policies.
Members of the PA WInS coalition hope to continue fighting book bans and other extremist policies wherever they arise in Pennsylvania.
“While Pennsylvanians pushed back in many districts in the last election, there’s still work to be done throughout the state to ensure that schools foster a belonging and safe climate for all students,” the group said.
Members say their goal isn’t to push back electorally; rather, they hope to offer resources to parents, students, teachers and others to fight extremist policies in their own communities.
Tristan Doud, a high school student in the Central York School District and a co-president of his school’s Panther Anti-Racist Union, said he took part in protests after his school board instituted its own book bans. The board ultimately changed course after the outcry.
“It was awesome that we were able to turn those book bans over twice, and we’re hoping that it’s never going to happen in our district again,” Doud said. “Because if it does, then we’ll stand up to it again.”
After the most recent elections in November, it’s clear that public opposition to extremist school policies is spreading, said Patricia Jackson, a teacher in the Central York School District.
Even so, the PA WInS coalition is especially needed now, she said.
“We need to stay together, linked, and use all of our resources together,” Jackson said. “It is all of these resources coming together that are going to keep our children really safe from the darkness.”