Gender-neutral teacher sorry for 'confusion' over pronoun request

Raising awareness about gender-neutral pronouns turned into a hot potato in one Florida school.

It all started when fifth-grade math and science teacher Chloe Bressack sent a letter home to parents asking students to use gender-neutral pronouns in the classroom.

It caused a rift among parents as they debated whether it was appropriate for Berssack, a new teacher at Canopy Oaks Elementary in Tallahassee, to make such a request.

What did the letter say?

Fifth-grade teacher Chloe Bressack’s letter. Credit: Leon County Schools

In the letter, sent home on Tuesday, Bressack wrote:

“One thing you should know about me is that I use gender-neutral terms. My prefix is Mx. (pronounced Mix).”

Bressack included pronouns students should use when addressing the fifth-grade teacher.

“My pronouns are they, them, their instead of he, his, she, hers… I know it takes some practice for it to feel natural, but in my experience students catch on pretty quickly.”

Bressack also said, “We’re not going for perfection, just making an effort!”

But on Thursday evening, Bressach apologized “for any confusion the letter caused” via a statement by Leon County Schools.

“My practice in addressing my students is to refer to them by their personal pronouns,” Bressack said, and 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.”

The statement also included apologies from Principal Paul Lambert and Superintendent Rocky Hanna.

Leon County Schools issued an apology over a letter sent home to parents. Credit: Getty Images

“As principal of Canopy Oaks I can assure you students throughout our school are greeted and responded to in the same way no matter which class they are in,” Lambert said.

Hanna was more forceful, writing: “As superintendent, I want to apologize for the letter going out to parents” and will “work hard to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again.”

Parents take to social media

On Tuesday, a parent who is part of a Facebook group called Tally Moms Stay Connected posted a photo of Bressack’s “Welcome to my class” letter.

The mother ended her post with a question: “What would your reaction be as a parent of 9- and 10-year-olds?”

The post, now locked from further commenting, ignited a virtual battlefield among socially conservative and liberal parents in the group.

Principal stands up for teacher

Lambert, the principal, told the school fully supports Bressack. In a statement, he said, “We support her preference in how she’s addressed.” He added:

“I can tell you her only agenda is teaching math and science the greatest she is able to do so.”

Easing parents concerns, Lambert said, “It’s not a preference that’s being applied to anyone other than the teacher.” Bressack “calls students by their names or gender-specific pronouns,” he noted.

Hanna, the superintendent, told this is not the first time the district confronts gender identity. He said educators are learning how to be inclusive of all.

“I can assure teachers in our district are not allowed to use their classrooms to advance personal beliefs or political agendas.”

Hanna doesn’t believe Bressack is doing that. He encourages parents to talk to school administrators if they have any further concerns.

Meanwhile, Bressack told the Tallahassee Democrat, “I feel very lucky to be teaching at Canopy Oaks, and I look forward to working with my students this year.”

Watch: Parents divided after gender-neutral teacher sends home a letter

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