News (USA)

Florida teacher got county to ban gay penguin book as indoctrination

Cover of And Tango Makes Three
And Tango Makes Three is one of the most popular LGBTQ+ children's books Photo: Little Simon

A Florida English teacher who is pushing a ban on nearly 150 books from school libraries has a history of making racist and anti-LGBTQ+ statements, according to former students.

And she just got an innocuous book on gay penguins – And Tango Makes Three – banned from county schools for “indoctrination.”

Vickie Baggett, a high school English teacher at Northview High School in Escambia County, Florida, has submitted 148 of the 150 book challenges being reviewed by the Escambia School District this year. Many of the challenged books are by Black authors or deal with LGBTQ+ topics.

Last December, Baggett told journalist Jedd Legum that she believes the books violate either the state’s “Stop Woke Act,” which aims to limit the instruction of topics related to the history of racism in the U.S., or the “Parental Rights in Education Act,” Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay Law,” which prohibits the instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in Kindergarten through third grade.

In 2015, Baggett posted a photo of the Confederate flag on her personal Facebook page. Baggett told Legum that she is a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which the Southern Poverty Law Center considers part of the white nationalist Neo-Confederate movement.

Following his interview with Baggett, published in his “Popular Information” newsletter, Legum spoke to several former students who claimed that Baggett had a history of promoting racist and homophobic beliefs in the classroom.

Two former students, Peggy Sunday and Stone Pressley, recalled an incident in which Baggett told their 10th-grade English class that she opposed interracial marriage. “[Baggett] said in the Bible somewhere it says that it is a sin for races to mix together and that whites are meant to be with whites and blacks are meant to be with blacks,” Sunday said.

Pressley and two other former students recalled Baggett saying that she opposed “race mixing” because “she wanted to preserve cultures” and “didn’t want everyone to turn the same color eventually.”

Sunday, Pressley, and a third former student, also told Legum about an incident in which Baggett allegedly told a student that the student’s sister was “faking being a lesbian for attention” and that “nobody’s born that way.”

Legum also obtained a September 2019 email from a parent to principal Michael Sherrill objecting to the “toxic and hostile learning environment” Baggett’s conduct had created in the classroom and demanding an investigation of her actions. Baggett, the parent wrote, “has expressed her utter distaste for homosexuals to her students.” Baggett “stated she thinks homosexuals are DUMB/STUPID for wearing the rainbow and pink colors because, according to Mrs. Baggett, that is the way that Hitler marked homosexual males during the Holocaust,” the letter continued.

Among the books Baggett has challenged is And Tango Makes Three, a children’s picture book about two male penguins who adopt a chick. On Monday, the Escambia County School board voted to ban the book along with two others, All Boys Aren’t Blue and When Aidan Became a Brother.

Baggett previously told Legum that she objected to And Tango Makes Three because it exposes students to “alternate sexual ideologies.”

“I think what would happen is a second grader would read this book, and that idea would pop into the second grader’s mind,” Baggett said, “that these are two people of the same sex that love each other.”

In her request to ban the children’s book, she said that she objects to it because it’s “LGBTQ agenda using penguins.” She said that the book has no strengths and that she is “aware of the judgment of this educational media by literary and authoritative critics.”

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