Update: Erica Garman of Living in Loco filed an independent FOIA request, and has posted the documents online.
We have now seen the documents pertaining to the Sugarland Elementary* parent’s challenge to And Tango Makes Three. I’ll just share this part: One of the questions on the challenge form is “Is there anything good in this material? Please comment.” The parent responds, “I can not say anything good about this book.”
This detail alone demonstrates without a shadow of doubt that this person is uninterested in any viewpoint other than her own. Her objection to the book is simply that she can’t tolerate the ideas that it contains – anywhere, for anyone, of any age. Otherwise, her answer to that question would have been different.
This is a book that has won the following awards:
– American Library Association Notable Children’s Book
– ASPCA’s Henry Bergh Award
– Gustavus Myer Outstanding Book Award
– Nick Jr. Family Magazine Best Book of the Year
– Bank Street Best Book of the Year
– Cooperative Children’s Book Council Choice
– CBC/NCSS Notable Social Studies Trade Book
– Finalist for 2006 Lambda Literary Award
Although it’s perhaps less flashy, the authors are particularly proud of this award: Last year the 5th grade classes of Manhattan Country School, Children’s Workshop School, and Central Park East 11 in New York City chose co-authors Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell to receive their “Living the Dream” Award, given each year in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, and in recognition of a children’s book “that best provides positive and authentic cultural images and dispels prejudice.” The students reached this decision through careful consideration, open debate, and discussion with their teachers throughout their year-long judging process. The authors say:
Hearing them talk about our book gave us both clear evidence of the importance of giving children free access to books and ideas, so they can form their own opinions.
But Sugarland Parent could not “say anything good about this book.” This speaks volumes about her, and what it says is not pretty.
Let’s just say that she is unable to say anything good about it because she dislikes penguins. A very good comment to this Loudoun Times-Mirror article addresses what now very much appears to be her motive:
It is clear, since the American Library Association has reported that “Tango” is one of the most challenged books, that this particular challenge is part of a larger effort by religious conservatives to further their theocratic agenda. After all, if homosexuality is present in other species, it is strong evidence that it is innate in humans as well, and not a “choice” as the religionists like to portray it. As always, their preferred course of action is to censor any material that conflicts with their particular views.
The current school policy allows — and even abets — these censorship efforts by allowing the perpetrators to remain anonymous. Any change in the school policy should address this particular factor. Book challenges should be public, with those making the challenges identified to the community. And the process should always default to open access. That is, the school board could overturn a decision to remove a book, but could not overturn a decision to keep it.
Once again, a Loudoun official’s catering to a small intolerant minority has painted Loudoun in the national news as a bunch of backward reactionary rubes. [Emphasis added]
Whatever Dr. Hatrick’s intention was (which I suspect was, ironically, to avoid controversy by placating the complaining parent), he is wholly responsible for this mess. It’s not fair to expect the School Board to fix it; their job is not to micro-manage and clean up after the Superintendent, their job is to set policy so that mistakes like this can’t happen.
It’s hard to admit it when you’ve made a mistake, but sometimes that’s the only thing you can do. There’s just no way of spinning out of this.
Unfortunately, the response we are now seeing is the deliberate spreading of misinformation in order to make the decision appear justified. Specifically, the Superintendent’s office has been circulating the rumor that the review committees’ votes on the book were “split.” This is flatly untrue. Here are the facts, directly from the obtained documents:
– At the school level, the committee of (3) unanimously voted to retain the book.
– At the district level, the committee of (12) voted overwhelmingly to retain the book. (9) voted to retain, and only (2) voted for removal, with (1) abstention.
– At both the school and district level, the discussion and vote was limited to Sugarland Elementary only, not all Loudoun elementary schools. We are aware of no other case of book challenge in which the decision was applied to any school other than the one at which the challenge was filed.
The misinformation campaign is an attempt to deny one of the things that parents are so angry about: That one individual, our Superintendent, contravened the recommendations of these review committees. It’s unprofessional, and it won’t work. The decision was wrong, for all the reasons already discussed, and the book should be returned to our public elementary school libraries.