Despite opposition from parents, a Florida school district is refusing to change a transgender student policy that resulted in requiring a male athletic coach to supervise a 14-year-old girl undressing in the boys’ locker room — or risk losing his job.
At a recent school board meeting in Pasco County, Florida, dozens of parents expressed their concern over the district’s stance allowing trans-identified students to use locker rooms and showers consistent with their gender identity instead of their biological sex, news station WTSP reports.
A number of parents who spoke at the meeting asked the board to restrict restroom and locker room use to a student's birth sex, not the gender they identify with. However, despite their pleas, “district leaders showed no signs of straying from the current protocol,” the outlet notes.
Video footage of the meeting shows a three-minute testimony from middle school P.E. teacher and professing Christian Rob Oppedisano, who said that he "objected" after learning "that a girl who identifies as a boy would have full access to the boy’s locker room, including the showers."
“I mentioned that no girl should be taking off her clothes in front of these young boys or grown men, both her privacy and the boys’ privacy needed to be protected,” Oppedisano said. “I mentioned that parents needed to be informed. [The school district’s lawyer] told me that only the female student had any rights, and the parents would not be informed.”
Oppedisano said that when he warned administrators that such a policy would open the district to lawsuits, the district lawyer responded, “We are the largest employer in Pasco County. We get sued all the time. It’s no big deal.”
The lawyer also told him he was the only person in the district to oppose the new transgender policy, Oppedisano said, and that for objecting he could lose his job and teaching certificate and would “never be able to teach in the state of Florida again.”
“What level of undress is appropriate for a 14-year-old girl in front of an adult, male P.E. coach?” he asked. “What is acceptable? You may be saying that this is no big deal, or trying to downplay it, but no one except myself and my colleague witnessed these young boys running out of the locker room half-dressed saying ‘Coach, coach, we have a problem. There’s a girl in the guys’ locker room.”
Oppedisano pointed out that the policy “was never even voted upon” and asked, “Why? What is being [hidden]?”
Middle school physical education teacher Stephanie Christensen also testified at the board meeting and revealed that after voicing her concerns about the policy, she, too, was threatened.
“When I wrote a letter to administration stating my concern for the rights and privacy of all students, I was threatened,” Christensen said. “When I said all parents have a right to be aware of this policy, I was told my job and teacher certificate were at stake. The response was swift and harsh. ... Many of my colleagues have confided that they disagree with the policy but will not speak up for fear of retribution from the administration.”
“Why do we inform parents about every aspect of their child’s education except this one policy?” asked Christensen. “In my 17-year career as a P.E. teacher, I have had more questions, phone calls, and emails from parents who are concerned about their children who are apprehensive about undressing in the locker room.”
Christensen pointed out that when the girl entered the boys’ locker room back in September, “there was no consideration for the privacy of those boys.”
“No one thought about their vulnerability, whether any of those boys had been sexually abused, how they felt about a female seeing them undressed,” she said. “Today I am advocating for every student.”
The Federalist reports that the Pasco County School District implemented its transgender-inclusive policy after it hired school psychologist Jackie Jackson-Dean as its LGBT liaison.
The guide, which lists locker room and bathroom access for trans-identified students as a “right," advises school staff not to disclose a child’s gender identity to his or her parents.
Additionally, it pushes the Obama-era interpretation that federal laws that protect citizens on the basis of sex extend those protections on the basis of “gender” identity and advises the school district to ignore the Trump administration’s reversal of Obama's Department of Education guidance.
Meanwhile, the conservative legal group the Liberty Counsel has sent the district a list of demands, including written confirmation it will not retaliate against any teachers opposed to the policy; a guarantee that no teachers will be required to use "false gender pronouns" for any students, or to supervise single-sex restrooms or locker rooms; and confirmation that the district "prohibits all classroom LGBT political activism, specifically the drag queen coloring books.”
The law firm is also asking that Jackson-Dean make publicly available her library of LGBTQ materials, The Tampa Bay Times reports, as the district has “taken the position that the materials are not public record, as Jackson-Dean purchased and maintains them privately, and not with district funds or on district grounds.”