Letter to the Editor: Citywide Student Chair Urges Opposition to Helligar’s Candidacy

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Letter to the Editor:

This letter is in opposition to Carmenita Helligar’s candidacy for our Burbank City Council.
 
My name is Sungjoo Yoon and I am a student in the class of 2023 at Burbank High School. I have also been a member of two City Boards/Commissions (I chair the Burbank Youth Board, the citywide student government, and was a liaison commissioner on the Sustainable Burbank Commission). I am writing in regards to Ms. Helligar’s troubling track record in city advocacy, from the perspective of a young citizen in a Burbank Unified public school.
 
When I was in the 10th grade, Ms. Helligar led the efforts to remove classic American titles including “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee and “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” by Mildred D. Taylor from our classrooms. She was covered in the Los Angeles Times, the Burbank Leader, and many other news networks for doing so. Her efforts successfully prohibited teachers from being allowed to assign said titles in their classes, at risk of being terminated.
 
I remember seeing Ms. Helligar at a meeting, where she accused teachers of weaponizing literature and further calling for the prohibition of these titles from being taught. As a first-generation immigrant in a family that did not know the culture and does not speak English, these books were my only insight into American race through a critical lens. She has taken that cultural lifeline away from students like me for years to come.
 
If you are considering voting for Ms. Helligar, I would implore you to come down to Burbank High School and talk to any of the English teachers. I also implore you to look at the Burbank HS Black Student Union’s “Stop the Attack on Black Voices” posters all around campus and in every classroom, protesting Ms. Helligar’s successful efforts to prohibit Black authors like Mildred D. Taylor on campus from being taught. 
 
A great resource if you’re unable to make it down here is this link: (https://pen.org/qa-with-burbank-unified-school-district-students/). This interview by PEN America, of our school’s 2022 BSU President and Vice President, explains why Ms. Helligar’s efforts were so harmful. My April 2022 op-ed in the New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/18/opinion/school-book-bans-students.html) also elaborates on these efforts, if you would like to read more.
 
I am sure Ms. Helligar is a decent, hard-working citizen. But I do not believe, in good conscience, that someone with the track record of literary censorship in our schools should be running our municipal government. We live in Burbank, California—not Frisco, Texas. 
 
Sungjoo Yoon
Burbank
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