CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Superintendent Peter Gorman and his top lieutenants have ordered a picture book about presumably gay penguins removed from school libraries, the first time Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has banned a book in more than a decade.

But Gorman said Tuesday he’ll let a committee review the decision after Charlotte Observer questions revealed he and his staff sidestepped CMS policy.

The ban came from a miscommunication between him and his chief of staff, Robert Avossa, Gorman said. “I screwed this one up.”

“And Tango Makes Three,” the real-life story of “the very first penguin in the zoo to have two daddies,” has drawn objections in schools or public libraries in seven states.

All decided to keep the book, according to the American Library Association. Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s public library has also rejected a request to remove it, a spokeswoman said.

CMS pulled the penguin love story without a formal complaint. Gorman said a couple of parents had asked him about the book, in which two male penguins at New York’s Central Park Zoo pair up and hatch an adopted egg, and Republican county commissioner Bill James had e-mailed him.

James said he read an online article about the book and asked Gorman if CMS libraries had it. “I am opposed to any book that promotes a homosexual lifestyle to elementary school students as normal,” he said.

Four of CMS’s 93 elementaries – Eastover, Hickory Grove, Mallard Creek and Myers Park Traditional – had the book.

On Nov. 30, top CMS administrators Ruth Perez, Ronald Dixon and Gloria Miller sent a memo to principals and media specialists explaining the decision to ban the book from all schools.

“First, it is a picture book that focuses on homosexuality. Second, we did not feel that such information was vital to primary students. Next, we did not believe the book would stimulate growth in ethical standards, and the book is too controversial.”

Banning books is controversial, too.

“One parent’s decision shouldn’t dictate whether or not the book is available to all the other families in the community,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone of the American Library Association. “Any challenge to a book is ultimately an attempt to remove an idea from public discourse.”

Banning “Tango” is a bad idea, she said, and doing it without an open, balanced review is worse.

The national gay penguin controversy began in March, when Missouri parents asked two public libraries to remove the book. Complaints also surfaced in Georgia, Tennessee, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois.

Several Charlotte-area school districts said they’d heard nothing about Tango. Benton Heights Elementary in Monroe removed it after a parent complained.

CMS policy calls for anyone with concerns about school materials to fill out a complaint form, which is reviewed by an advisory committee at the particular school. That decision can be appealed to a central committee, the superintendent and the school board.

“Even if you feel that the book is inappropriate, do not yank the book off the shelf to quell controversy, thereby bypassing or ignoring board-approved procedures,” says a CMS tip sheet for its staff.

Gorman said he asked Avossa to look into the “Tango” controversy. Miller, head of school media services, sent Avossa a Nov. 27 memo that included board policy and the tip sheet.

Gorman said he didn’t realize that policy had been disregarded until the Observer asked for copies of any complaints and details about the decision. When they couldn’t find any complaints, officials realized they had erred.

Gorman said Avossa told him about CMS’s procedures, and Gorman mistakenly thought those things had been done. He told Avossa to pull the book.

He said he will ask the central advisory committee to review “Tango.”

Spokeswoman Nora Carr said CMS last pulled a book from school libraries during Superintendent John Murphy’s tenure. Murphy, who left in 1995, agreed to remove “Be Safe About Sex” after it had been through the review process, she said.



PENGUIN LOVE

Excerpt from “And Tango Makes Three,” based on two real penguins at the Central Park Zoo:

“Roy and Silo were both boys. But they did everything together. They didn’t spend much time with the girl penguins. And the girl penguins didn’t spend much time with them. Instead, Roy and Silo wound their necks around each other. Their keeper Mr. Gramzay noticed the two penguins and thought to himself, “They must be in love.”‘



PENGUIN HEARTBREAK

Shortly after the book was published in 2005, New York Times reporter Jonathan Miller reported that Roy and Silo had separated:

“Silo’s eye began to wander, and last spring he forsook his partner of six years at the Central Park Zoo and took up with a female from California named Scrappy. Of late, Roy has been seen alone, in a corner, staring at a wall.”


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