Public Schools

School board members in Va. and Pa. make a statement by using banned books for swearing-in ceremonies

  Rob Boston

Newly elected and returning school board members in Virginia and Pennsylvania recently made important statements as they took office: They swore their oaths of office on banned books.

In Fairfax County, Va., two members of the school board used books that have been banned elsewhere in the state for their swearing-in ceremony. Karl Frisch, who became chair of the board earlier this week, took the oath on a stack of five LGBTQ-themed books that are often attacked by censors.

Elevating banned books

Newly elected member Kyle McDaniel rested his hand on a copy of Homegoing, a novel about the legacy of slavery that has been banned in some Virginia districts. Rachna Sizemore Heizer, who previously held an at-large seat on the board but will now represent a specific district, swore in on two books, one of them being Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, a frequent target of conservative ire.

The Washington Post reported that other members of the board swore in on Bibles, one used a copy of the Bhagavad Gita (a Hindu scripture), and three members didn’t use books for the ceremony.

A similar situation played out earlier in the month in Bucks County, Pa., where Karen Smith, the board’s new president, took her oath on a stack of frequently banned books. They included Night by Elie Wiesel, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart and Flamer by Mike Curato.

Commitment to the right to read

Smith, who was part of a slate of candidates who ousted Moms for Liberty-backed members and returned the board to moderate control, said using the banned books made sense for her.

“I’m not particularly religious,” she said. “The Bible doesn’t hold significant meaning for me, and given everything that has occurred in the last couple of years, the banned books, they do mean something to me at this point.” Smith said she wanted to show “the commitment I’ve had to fighting for the books, and for our students’ freedom to read.”

After being sworn in, Smith and the new board reversed a policy “that led to 60 books challenged, and two books being outright banned,” Truthout reported.

Turning the tide

Christian Nationalist book banning remains a scourge on our land, but, as recent developments in Virginia and Pennsylvania show, people of goodwill can turn the tide.

Here’s hoping many others follow their example.

P.S. In case you’re wondering, the practice of using Bibles to swear in to public office is purely a custom. It’s not required. If you’re ever elected or appointed to public office, you’re free to use the religious or non-religious book of your choice. You can also use the Constitution, a municipal code or simply swear in without a book.

Photo: Karl Frisch takes the oath of office. Screenshot from YouTube. 

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