Nassau County Public Schools sued for removing children's book about same-sex penguin couple

NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. — A children’s book about two male penguins who raised a chick together is the subject of a lawsuit targeting Nassau County Public Schools.


The suit claims the district arbitrarily removed the book from school library shelves.

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And Tango Makes Three is a children’s book telling the true story of two male penguins in the Central Park Zoo that captured media attention in the early 2000′s after they hatched an egg given to them by a zookeeper and raised the chick as their own.

The book was removed from library shelves in Nassau County Public Schools after the conservative group Citizens Defending Freedom contacted the district and argued the book and 35 other titles were “inappropriate” and “offensive”.

James Bruner with Citizens Defending Freedom argued topics like same-sex marriage don’t belong on school library shelves.

“There’s a, if you call it, if you will, an adult debate over this,” said Bruner.

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Bruner did acknowledge And Tango Makes Three doesn’t include any explicit or pornographic content.

“It doesn’t get into the juicy sexual stuff,” said Bruner.

Lauren Zimmerman is an attorney representing the authors of And Tango Makes Three and local Nassau County parents and students.

“It’s upsetting and it’s personal. You know, as we outline in our complaint, our author plaintiffs are a married couple, they’re raising a daughter in the city together. They’re very much like the couple in the book,” said Zimmerman.

In a 51-page lawsuit filed this week, Zimmerman alleged her clients’ first amendment rights were violated when the book was removed.

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According to public records, the district did not determine the book violated state law, rather, it removed the book citing a lack of circulation.

However, the district acknowledged the book was in fact checked out five times over the past five years.

Meanwhile, the lawsuit claims thousands of other titles that haven’t been checked out at all remain on the school library shelves.

The two students named in the suit claim they would check out And Tango Makes Three immediately if it’s returned to the shelves.

“Our view is that you cannot remove the book based on personal animus. There has to be a legitimate reason for the removal and we don’t see one here,” said Zimmerman.

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The suit also alleges the district failed to follow open government laws by not holding public hearings while making decisions on And Tango Makes Three and the 35 other books it removed or restricted.

Bruner claimed district leaders have the right to curate their libraries based on what they believe is appropriate, or in this case, when a book seems to have a low level of interest.

“They can pull any book they want for whatever their appropriate governmental job requires of them,” said Bruner.

But Stephana Ferrell with the Florida Freedom to Read Project noted when a book is challenged there is a formal process prescribed in state law districts must follow.

“And there is a question of whether or not the district did that,” said Ferrell.

Ferrell blames the state laws regulation book challenges for litigation around these issues.

It’s litigation that ultimately costs districts money defending lawsuits from concerned groups on both sides of the issue.

“The laws are recklessly written to allow for infringement and discrimination, but also carry harsh consequences for district non-compliance. It’s a lose-lose situation for our school leaders, educators, and our students. The only people that get to act with limited risk are those that file the objections,” said Ferrell.

Action News Jax reached out to Nassau County Public Schools for comment on this story.

The district declined, citing the pending litigation.

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