TALLAHASSEE — A new fifth-grade teacher at Canopy Oaks Elementary is asking students to use gender-neutral pronouns in the classroom.
Math and science teacher Chloe Bressack sent the request home in a letter to parents headlined "About Mx. Bressack."
“... my pronouns are 'they, them, their' instead of 'he, his, she, hers.' I know it takes some practice for it to feel natural,” the letter reads, “but students catch on pretty quickly.”
The letter also asks that students use “Mx.," (pronounced 'Mix') when addressing the teacher rather than Mr. or Ms.
The note alarmed some parents.
In a post written Tuesday night in the Facebook group “Tally Moms Stay Connected," a parent said her child’s teacher sent home a “Welcome to my class” note, which included the request.
The parent ended her original post with the question, “What would your reaction be as a parent of 9 & 10 year olds?”
The resulting comments became a battleground where socially conservative and liberal parents clashed.
Canopy Oaks Principal Paul Lambert said he and the school are in full support of Bressack.
"We support her preference in how she's addressed, we certainly do," Lambert said. "I think a lot of times it might be decided that there is an agenda there, because of her preference — I can tell you her only agenda is teaching math and science at the greatest level she can."
Bressack declined an interview with the Tallahassee Democrat Wednesday, but commented in an email, "I feel very lucky to be teaching at Canopy Oaks, and I look forward to working with my students this year."
Lambert acknowledged there have been some calls to the Canopy Oaks front office regarding the letter.
"There has been some (contact from concerned parents), the thing that has brought good understanding is, it's not a preference that's being applied to anyone other than the teacher."
Lambert said Bressack refers to every student by either their name or a gender-specific pronoun, "just like every other classroom in our building."
Addressing gender issues is not new to the district at the student level.
Following a controversy in 2015 surrounding a gender-neutral student’s decision to wear a dress, questions were raised about the district’s bylaws regarding the dress code, school environment and discrimination against certain students. A week after the incident, LCS conducted a training session familiarizing dozens of administrators with policies relating to transgender and gender nonconforming students.
The training included ensuring students’ safety but also explained that students are allowed to access facilities, like restrooms and locker rooms, and participate in athletic teams that align with their gender identity.
Superintendent Rocky Hanna addressed the situation in a statement sent to the Democrat. He said he met with Canopy Oaks administrators after learning about the letter.
"According to Principal Lambert, the teacher addresses students daily by using the pronouns he, she, him and her. The teacher also uses ma’am and sir when responding to students. As a personal preference, however, the teacher simply prefers to be referred to in gender neutral terms as that of a coach," Hanna wrote.
"I can assure you that teachers in our district will not be allowed to use their influence in the classroom to advance any personal belief or political agenda. At this time, I do not believe that is the case in this instance."
Follow Ryan Dailey on Twitter: @RT_Dailey