Authors and parents sue Lake County Schools over banned book about penguin family

'Tango Makes Three' is a picture book about a penguin family with two fathers

click to enlarge Authors and parents sue Lake County Schools over banned book about penguin family
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The authors of a children’s book and a group of parents are suing Lake County Schools and Florida’s Department of Education over a banned book.

The book, And Tango Makes Three, is a picture book about a penguin family that has two fathers.

Author Peter Parnell and six children, represented by their parents, filed the lawsuit on Tuesday in Ocala’s federal court.

Their argument is that the Lake County school board violated First Amendment freedoms when they decided to remove from school libraries last December. They argue restricting access to the book was unconstitutional.

And Tango Makes Three “tells the true story of two male penguins in New York City’s Central Park Zoo. The penguins, named Roy and Silo, formed an enduring pair bond and, with the help of a conscientious zookeeper, adopted, hatched, and raised a penguin chick named Tango,” reads the lawsuit.

The book is aimed at 4- to 8-year-olds and has won multiple awards. Since the book was first published in 2005, it has been routinely challenged. It has already been banned or restricted in many other districts around the U.S.

The lawsuit claims the school board restricted access to the book for students in kindergarten through third grade after the passage in H.B. 1557, the Parental Rights in Education Act, also known as Florida’s Don’t Say Gay law. Following the law’s passage in 2022, Lake County removed 40 books, the majority of which had LGBTQ+ themes.

“The school district made no attempt to disguise the reason for its decision,” the lawsuit states. “It restricted students below the fourth grade from reading Tango because of H.B. 1557, as well as the content and viewpoint expressed in the book. It cited no legitimate pedagogical reason for its decision — nor could it: Tango was a library book, not part of the school curriculum; the book is factually accurate, non-vulgar, and non-obscene; Tango had previously stood on school library shelves; and Tango was restricted for illegitimate, narrowly partisan and political reasons.”

All Florida school districts have procedures and policies put in place for parents to challenge books in school libraries. If a parent wants to challenge a book, it then has to be evaluated by the school board.

This lawsuit is the latest action taken in Florida by literary groups, authors or parents who are seeking to overturn book bans through legislation.

There have been no comments on the pending litigation, according to a spokesperson for Lake County Schools, Sherri Owens.
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