Children's Book May Return To Shelves

By Michael Alison Chandler and Erica Garman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 28, 2008

A controversial children's book about two male penguins that was removed from general circulation at Loudoun County public elementary schools may be put back on the shelves in many school libraries, Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III said Tuesday night.

Hatrick decided earlier this month that only parents and teachers would have access to the book, "And Tango Makes Three," after a parent complained that it promoted a gay agenda. But at Tuesday's School Board meeting, Hatrick said he had "exceeded the authority" given to him by the board.

Because the parent's challenge pertained to the book's availability at Sugarland Elementary, Hatrick said, the decision applies only to that school, not the 13 other elementary schools that have purchased the book. Librarians at those schools can decide whether to return it to shelves, he said.

School Board members, meanwhile, said they are considering broad changes in the system for challenging books and will begin reviewing the policy at a committee meeting Tuesday.

Board member John Stevens (Potomac) circulated a draft of suggested policy changes. Under his proposal, School Board review and public input would be required before the removal of any book and a superintendent or principal would not be permitted to overrule a decision made by an appointed committee.

Board Chairman Robert F. DuPree Jr. (Dulles) circulated a proposal that board members be able to review and potentially overrule a superintendent's decision to restrict access to a book. Board members are usually not notified when that decision is made, he said.

Hatrick told board members seeking to overturn his decision or revise the policy to "follow your conscience."

In a prepared statement, he said his decision to override the recommendation of a district-level committee and limit access to the book was a close one, "one that could be described as 51-49 at best." The decision was not meant to further any agenda, he said, "but to provide age-appropriate materials for young readers, period."

Half a dozen parents criticized or applauded his decision in comments to the board. Chris Stevenson, a Purcellville resident whose children attend Mountain View Elementary, said it was appropriate to shelter impressionable young students from the book.

"There is still no general consensus as to whether same-sex parenting is appropriate in society or not," he said.

Amy Dillard, a parent with two children at Hillside Elementary in Ashburn, said she was dismayed "that one person's objection has resulted in the removal of this book . . . and that another parent could make a decision of what my children can and cannot read."

More than 20 people wearing black-and-white clothes evocative of penguins stood up in support as she spoke.

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