Pennsylvania’s Central Bucks School District was one of the places where Moms for Liberty lost big in the 2023 elections, with a right-wing school board majority swept out and replaced with Democrats. On Monday night, Karen Smith—who had been serving on the board in the Democratic minority prior to this election—was sworn in as the school board president, part of the wave of change from the anti-LGBTQ+, pro-book-banning board voted out in November. She made a powerful symbolic choice when it came to what book she’d be sworn in on: not the Bible or another religious book, but a stack of frequently banned books.
At the top of Smith’s pile of books was Elie Wiesel’s Holocaust survival memoir “Night,” a choice with particular local resonance. In January, after the board banned staff from advocating on “partisan, political, or social policy issues,” a Central Bucks librarian was told to remove the Wiesel quote, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
The other books Smith chose were: Toni Morrison’s “The Bluest Eye”; Donna Gephart’s “Lily and Dunkin,” which has a transgender main character; George M. Johnson’s “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” a memoir about growing up Black and LGBTQ+; Mike Curato’s graphic novel “Flamer”; and Susan Kuklin’s “Beyond Magenta.”
Here’s how Fox News reported Smith's choices: “Pennsylvania school board president sworn into office with sexually explicit book.” That headline refers to “Flamer,” a choice Smith told The Philadelphia Inquirer she made after hearing someone fighting book bans in Texas say that “Flamer” had saved their life.
Before the Democrats could take office, the Moms for Liberty-dominated school board awarded the far-right superintendent they’d hired a cushy $700,000 severance package, a move that the new board is looking into, along with massive legal fees the previous board incurred responding to an ACLU of Pennsylvania complaint about “a widespread culture of discrimination” against LGBTQ+ students. The new board also immediately suspended four policies enacted by the previous board: two making it easier to remove books from school libraries; one preventing transgender girls from playing girls sports; and a ban on the display of political flags, including Pride flags, and prohibiting teachers from “indoctrinating students.”
All of these changes, and the ones still to come, were beautifully encapsulated in Smith’s choice of books to be sworn in on.