Cindy and James Dacus should know by early December the outcome of their months-long fight to restrict elementary students' access to a book about two male penguins that raise a chick together.
Officials at Ankeny's East Elementary School, where in late February the couple's kindergartner found the book, "And Tango Makes Three," denied the couple's request to remove the book or move it to a parents-only section. The couple's appeal to the school board is expected to be acted on next month.
Cindy Dacus told school board members Nov. 3 that the book tries to normalize homosexuality to children too young to understand the "risky lifestyle."
"My question is: How did this book get in our library?" James Dacus asked the board. "This book should never have been allowed in our school libraries."
In 2007, there were 420 library book challenges, the most recent year for which statistics are available, according the American Library Association. It notes that a majority of challenges go unreported.
Book challenges aren't rare in Iowa, although they happen less frequently here than in other states, said Mike Wright, chairman of the Intellectual Freedom Committee of the Iowa Library Association. He said the aim of a school library should be the same as that of a public library: to build a collection that reflects the community.
Wright said he doubted there were many communities left where there wasn't a gay or lesbian couple with a child in school.
"Asking the entire community to buckle to one parent's standards isn't reasonable," he said. "If you took everything out of the library that is potentially upsetting to one family, it would be a pretty empty place."
The Dacuses declined to be interviewed, but they have been public with their views, writing a letter to the Ankeny Press Citizen urging others to join them at the Nov. 3 school board meeting "if you too are concerned about the material that our tax dollars are supporting in our elementary schools."
They argued at the meeting that the book isn't age-appropriate and that it doesn't support the curriculum. Cindy Dacus said parents could still buy the book at bookstores or likely find it at a public library.
The Dacuses at first sought to have the book removed from the school library or placed in a parents-only section on the grounds that the book promotes homosexuality and same-sex couples as normal, that children that age are too young to understand the subject, and that parents should be the ones to decide when to bring it up. They have since said they are interested only in having the book restricted so that only parents could check it out.
The couple took their complaint first to East Elementary, where officials decided to keep the book in open circulation. The Dacuses appealed the decision to the school board.
Following district policy, school officials formed a committee to write a report for the board, without making a recommendation, on the strengths and weaknesses of the material. The committee included school officials, community members and the Dacuses.
Board President Andrew Martin said the earliest the board would act is during its Dec. 1 meeting, when it will receive legal advice on the matter.
Children's literature portraying same-sex couples and their children has often sparked controversies in the country. Examples include "Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin," "Heather Has Two Mommies" and "Daddy's Roommate."
"And Tango Makes Three" topped the American Library Association's list of the 10 most challenged books in 2006 and 2007. There doesn't appear to have been any previous challenges to the book in the Des Moines area.
Online library records show that "And Tango Makes Three" is in at least one of the libraries of a Des Moines elementary school, Perkins Academy.
Perkins Principal Penelope Rittgers said she knew of no challenge to the book. She refused to say whether it was in open circulation or in a parents-only section. The district's library coordinator, Dale Vande Haar, declined to comment.
A copy of the book is at a West Des Moines elementary school, where officials decided to place it in a parents-only section.
"We felt it was not appropriate for children to be browsing," said Phyllis Staplin, West Des Moines director of curriculum. She added: "It's quite appropriate, it's quite tender, for parents to read themselves."
Nate Monson is project coordinator for Iowa Safe Schools, which promotes safe learning environments for all children, especially those who are gay, lesbian or transgender, as well as those whose parents are gay or lesbian couples.
Monson said putting a book such as "And Tango Makes Three" in a restricted area sends students the wrong message - that homosexuality is different and not OK. "Libraries are a place of diverse discussion, of all viewpoints," he said. "That's why we have libraries. It's important to have literature such as this on the shelf."
His views were shared by Ankeny mother Bengu Tekinalp.
Tekinalp, an assistant professor at Drake University who oversees its program on student counseling, immigrated to the United States from Turkey and moved to Ankeny about a year ago.
"When my child sees the book on restricted shelves, the message is it's not OK to be different, it's not OK to be unique," said Tekinalp, who has a 3-year-old daughter. "So I can go ahead and harass those kids who are different - that's the message we are giving to our kids."
Chuck Hurley, president of the Iowa Family Policy Center, which opposes gay marriage, said educators should heed parents' concerns over what their children are exposed to in schools.
"If not, the parent needs to look for a school setting where the parents' worldview will be respected," he said.
Hurley said school officials should err on the side of caution when considering adding materials on controversial cultural issues, especially when dealing with elementary students.
"Thank God there's some parents who have the care and love of their children to such a degree that they would stick their neck out in a PC world and ask that this agenda not be promoted in their child's school," he said.