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Pasco teacher rejects transgender students’ pronouns, told last names are okay

But he has to treat all children the same.
More than 100 people turned out Jan. 15, 2019, to give the Pasco County School Board their thoughts on the district's policy and procedures for transgender student rights. [JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK | Times]

Chasco Middle School physical education teacher Rob Oppedisano set off a firestorm in 2018 when he refused to supervise a locker room while a transgender student changed inside.

The Pasco County school district has faced an unending debate over LGBTQ student rights ever since.

Related: Religious rights group protests Pasco's treatment of transgender students

In recent weeks, Oppedisano has again sparked an outcry — this time with a social media post that he has now removed from Facebook.

In it, according to several people who read the comment, the teacher thanked school district officials for granting him a “religious exemption” that would allow him to not use the names and pronouns used by transgender students.

Representatives of Safe Schools for All Students Pasco, associated with Pasco Pride, took exception and demanded that any such exemption be rescinded. They contended it violated district policy and state law.

“It is in the best interest of all students, faculty and staff in Pasco County that Mr. Oppedisano’s personal religious beliefs, or the personal beliefs of any employee, student, volunteer or guest, not be imposed on any other individual,” Safe Schools founder Myndee Washington wrote in a letter to the School Board’s attorney.

A group member read the letter into the record at the board’s Feb. 18 meeting.

The concerns were misplaced, though, district officials suggested.

That’s because they never offered any sort of religious exemption, explained deputy superintendent Ray Gadd. Rather, the district told the teacher that if he will not use the pronouns that bother him, he may address his students by their last names.

But it has to be all of them, district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said, and the teacher cannot use “he” or “she” for anyone. If he treats any child differently, Cobbe said, he has stepped over the line.

The administration and School Board have remained steady in their stance that district employees must follow best practices to support a safe environment for LGBTQ students. That has included using LGBTQ students’ pronouns and allowing them to use restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.

The only reason the district might change, officials said, is if they get different guidance from the courts or in law.

Until recently, speakers on both sides of the issue regularly attended board meetings to alternately criticize and praise the board for its position. Even though the bi-weekly commentary has died down, attention to the subject remains high, with a federal court ruling on a St. Johns County case expected soon.

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