Tallahassee teacher asks to be identified with gender-neutral pronouns

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- Just one month into the new school year, and students at Canopy Oaks Elementary are getting a lesson many weren't expecting.

Chloe Bressack, a math teacher, sent a letter home asking students to refer to Bressack as "them" and "they," instead of saying "she," "her," "he," or "him." In the letter, Bressack also asked that students use Mx. (mix) instead of Ms. or Mr.

Bressack declined an on camera interview, instead releasing a statement. It said, in part:

"I apologize for any confusion this letter may have caused. My practice in addressing my students is to refer to them by their personal pronouns, be they 'he, she, or they.' We work together to create a positive environment of respect and understanding."

Some parents said it's inappropriate.

"To each their own, but I think they should go by 'mister' and 'miss,' because that's just been the way it's been all these years," said Marlene Lewandowski.

Lewandowski is one of many in the community reacting to a letter recently sent home to parents of the fifth graders in Chole Bressack's class.

Chris Sands with PFLAG, an organization of supporters of the LGBTQ community, said Bressack's request is new to a lot of people.

He said pronouns are important to those who choose to be gender neutral, saying "To ignore their pronouns is to sort of erase a part of their identity. So, all they're looking for is a little bit of acknowledgment."

"This is who I am, this is how I present myself to the world, I would like you to treat me with respect and use the title or the pronouns that I've asked you to," Sands continued.

But Lewandowski said this might be confusing for students.

"I think they are probably confused, because they probably were brought up saying 'mister' and 'miss.' I mean, to call somebody differently, I don't think they would recognize it as much," Lewandowski explained.

Sands also said Bressack's fifth graders have the perfect opportunity to discuss what gender neutral is. He said parents can talk to children about how some people don't want to identify themselves by a specific sex.

"Say, 'Hey not everyone's the same and it's okay to be a little bit different.' I know that kids throughout their development, they're going to recognize differences in themselves and in their peers. To have this lesson of it's safe and it's okay to be different, is a great lesson to start with," Sands said.

A parent agreed that Bressack could provide a valuable lesson for students.

"I think there are a lot of kids that struggle with the same gender issues. It gives them a role model, and someone that can help them get through the same kinds of issues," said Sarah Howell.

Below are the official statements from school leaders and Bressack:

Canopy Oaks principal, Paul Lambert
"A letter was recently sent home to parents from our new fifth grade math and science teacher, Chloe Bressack. There has been a lot of confusion about this letter, but as the principal of Canopy Oaks I can assure you that students throughout our school are greeted and responded to in the same way no matter which class they are in. Great instruction is taking place, the students are being treated respectfully and appropriately, and the class--like all classes--is continually monitored and assessed. The number one priority for us is the well being and success of our students and teachers. We are available to speak with parents to address any concerns or questions they may have."

Chloe Bressack
Teacher Bressack respectfully declined any media interviews at this time but released the following statement: "I apologize for any confusion this letter may have caused. My practice in addressing my students is to refer to them by their personal pronouns, be they "he, she, or they." We work together to create a positive environment of respect and understanding. I understand that students will not always address me in the way I prefer, and that is okay. We keep moving with a smile and continue on with our learning. In our classroom, our learning and our well being is the priority. I am lucky to be teaching at Canopy Oaks and I look forward to working with my students this year."

Superintendent of Schools Rocky Hanna
"I believe Teacher Bressack has cleared up any misunderstandings about the language used in the classroom. I can assure you I take matters like this very seriously and I will not allow teachers in our school system to influence our children negatively--though in this situation I do not believe this is the case.

As superintendent I want to apologize for the letter going out to parents as I am the person who is ultimately responsible for everything that happens in our school district. I will work hard to ensure something like this doesn't happen again."

Photo: Leon County Schools

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