Pennsylvania school librarian ordered to remove Holocaust survivor’s quote from the wall

A Pennsylvania school district provoked controversy last week when a librarian was ordered to take down posters with a quote from activist and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel because it ran afoul of a new policy on “advocacy activities.”

On Wednesday, librarian Matt Pecic of Central Bucks School District outside of Philadelphia was told to take down the posters, which included the following quote from Mr Wiesel’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech: “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.”

“If I didn’t take it down, I knew there would be consequences that could impact me,” he told public radio station WHYY.

“It’s a horrible feeling. And you feel like you have to do something that you don’t agree with,” he added.

The school changed course the following day after students and community members pushed back.

“The district apologizes for any hurt or concerns this has caused, particularly for those in the Jewish community,” school officials said in a statement.

The controversy is the latest within the district and other nearby schools concerning the scope of how much officials should be able to regulate the content of books and other materials on social issues found within classrooms and libraries.

Earlier this month, the Central Bucks Board of School Directors voted on a policy banning educators from “advocacy activities” and “partisan, political, or social policy matters,” inspiring students to protest.

The policy prevents the display of any “flag, banner, poster, sign, sticker, pin, button, insignia, paraphernalia, photograph, or other similar material that advocates concerning any partisan, political, or social policy issue.”

A draft of the measure singled out “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” as specifically verboten categories.

In November, the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights announced an investigation into the Central Bucks School District, following a complaint the month before from the state ACLU that officials were creating a “widespread culture of discrimination against LGBTQ+, particularly transgender students.”

A school board official told the Bucks County Herald its leaders remain “resolute and united in its zero tolerance for discrimination, bullying or harassment of any kind.”

In July, the district passed a new library policy, considered by some in the community an anti-LGTBQ+ book ban, that forbid “inappropriate” and “sexualized” materials.

School districts around the country, following the lead of conservative officials in places like Florida, have moved to aggressively limit access to materials that teach about topics like sexuality, gender identity, and racism.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Andrea Phillips, who teaches third grade in Florida, recently told The Independent of the numerous books stripped from her classroom under the state’s new “curriculum transparency” law. “It feels cold without all my books. It doesn’t feel like the classroom and the environment that I built.”