Penguins and children

Potomac District School Board member John Stevens posted this last night:

Put the Penguins Back

Many of you are aware of the controversy surrounding the removal of a children’s book called And Tango Makes Three from the libraries of all Loudoun County public elementary schools. I have read the book, studied our policies and sought the input of the Superintendent and his staff regarding the process that was followed.

I believe And Tango Makes Three should return to our libraries’ shelves.

Parents determine what is appropriate for their own children and how to guide their children as they learn and grow. The schools should not be an instrument of censorship for parents who want veto power over the judgment of other parents.

After spending the past week investigating the decision, I believe that the Superintendent and every LCPS staff member involved faithfully followed the policies provided by the School Board. I also believe that the policies, last revised in 1993, are deeply flawed and led to a bad decision. I will work to overhaul these policies.

I am researching the best practices for handling book challenges in public school libraries, and have asked the Superintendent’s staff to provide their input. I will present a new set of policies for consideration at the next meeting of the Legislative/Policy committee on March 4th.

We now see, from the statements LCPS Public Information officer Wayde Byard is making to the media, what the justification will be for the decision of one individual – Dr. Edgar Hatrick – to overrule the recommendations of both the school- and district-level book review committees to leave the book available to all. That justification is that “some young children may not be ready for the subject matter” of Tango.

We are left to guess at what that subject matter might be; however, we are told it is “mature.”

Did I mention that it’s an adorably illustrated book about penguins? That it tells a true story about a baby penguin that would otherwise not have survived, but was adopted and nurtured by loving parents with no baby of their own? It’s about the joy of being part of a family who loves you. This family looks a little different, and isn’t that great? School Library Journal labels it as “PreSchool-Grade 3.” If the content of this book is too mature for children under 10, then the fact that there are children with two moms or two dads attending our public elementary schools is also “mature subject matter” – and that’s just silly. I think we can assume that the meme about “mature subject matter” is just that, a meme – because a Public Information officer has to say something when a bad decision like this one gets publicized.

I commend John Stevens for being very thoughtful and methodical in his approach to this, gathering all the facts, and not assuming any ill intent on the part of anyone in the LCPS administration. I truly think that Dr. Hatrick thought that this parent was not going to take no for an answer, that it was easier to try to placate him or her, and that it wouldn’t really hurt anyone.

That, of course, is not true – and for many reasons that have nothing to do with GLBT issues. This is a very dangerous path to start down. If this parent is allowed to remove this book because it contains an idea he/she doesn’t like, then any other parent can do the same. If we all did that, there would not be many books left. There are many excellent reasons in the areas of intellectual freedom, educational integrity, and simple fairness to all families who use our public schools for insisting on the reversal of this error.

But there are other reasons, less abstract and closer to home. I can’t fail to connect this poor decision to something else that happened this week, because there are, in fact, children at risk.

Local newscasts here, and probably everywhere else, have for the past two days been reporting on the campus shooting in Illinois. But only if you live in the Los Angeles area or read GLBT press would you have heard about the 8th grade student who was shot in the head by a classmate because he was openly gay and gender non-conforming. Lawrence King was declared brain dead Thursday, and taken off life-support earlier today. His organs, in spite of being “gay,” will save the lives of other children.

Fellow students also tell the Los Angeles Times that King was harassed on a regular basis. He had been involved in an argument with a group of boys that included his alleged shooter, who is said by a witness to have specifically threatened him, on Monday.

Equality California, Transgender Law Center and GSA Network issued a joint press release:

“With young people coming out at younger ages, our schools — especially our junior highs and middle schools — need to be proactive about teaching respect for diversity based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Carolyn Laub, executive director of Gay-Straight Alliance Network. “The tragic death of Lawrence King is a wake-up call for our schools to better protect students from harassment at school. As a society, we can prevent this kind of violence from happening.”

But the catch is, we have to want to.

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