- Florida students and the authors of the popular children’s book “And Tango Makes Three” filed a lawsuit Tuesday against state education department officials and the Lake County School District for barring access to the book, which details a true story about two male penguins who "adopted" and raised a baby penguin in the Central Park Zoo.
- The lawsuit claims the district’s school libraries removed the book written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson due to H.B. 1557, the 2022 measure that opponents have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
- Taking the children’s book off Lake County’s school library shelves "infringes students’ right to receive information,” the lawsuit alleges. Moreover, it says, the action was taken for “illegitimate, narrowly partisan and political reasons” and violates the First Amendment for “discriminating based on content and viewpoint,” ultimately infringing upon the authors’ right to freedom of expression.
“And Tango Makes Three” was one of the most-removed picture books from library shelves during the 2021-22 school year, according to PEN America, a nonprofit that tracks book bans and educational “gag orders.”
Though Florida’s H.B. 1557 initially prohibited teachers in grades K-3 from instructing on or discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom, Gov. Ron DeSantis has since signed an expansion of that law to cover pre-K through 8th grade.
DeSantis signed the expansion in May alongside a slew of other bills addressing student pronoun use in schools and limits to students’ use of bathrooms based on the gender they were assigned at birth.
Inclusivity advocates have said these policies directly target and will hurt LGBTQ+ youth, while DeSantis and state officials contend such laws will keep children safe in schools.
“Educators in Florida are expected to teach our standards, and not interject their own opinions or worldview into the classroom. The Department will remain focused on teaching students core subjects, rather than woke gender ideology or inappropriate topics,” said Manny Diaz, Jr., Florida’s education commissioner, in a previous statement on May 17.
The “Tango” lawsuit isn’t the first to be filed over book bans in Florida. Publishing giant Penguin Random House and nonprofit PEN America filed a lawsuit in May alongside authors and parents against the Escambia County School District over its removal of books from library shelves. That lawsuit argues that removal decisions violated the First and 14th amendments and particularly discriminated against people of color and LGBTQ+ people.
Federal pushback against book bans is also underway, as the White House announced earlier this month that the U.S. Department of Education will appoint a new coordinator to take on book bans in classrooms and libraries across the country.
“Book banning erodes our democracy, removes vital resources for student learning, and can contribute to the stigma and isolation that LGBTQI+ people and other communities face,” the White House said in a fact sheet released to mark Pride Month.