Joy Pullmann: Fla. School Board Keeps Policy Pushing Male Coach To Supervise Undressing Girl

In November I reported on a Florida transgender school policy that resulted in demanding that a male athletic coach supervise an 14-year-old girl undressing in the boys’ locker room, without informing the boys’ parents. The policy was written by a school district employee who refers students to outside organizations that may, without their parents’ knowledge, provide HIV-resistant drugs to minors for risky sexual encounters.

Last week, objecting parents packed the Pasco County School Board’s regular meeting and filled the public comment period. Each received three minutes for comments, after which the board adjourned with zero action on the matter, and no indication of any future action.

Male middle school P.E. teacher Rob Oppedisano, who objected to this policy after boys came running out of the locker room in confusion when they found a girl in their private space, says in return he received employment threats from the school district.

During his public testimony on Jan 15, Oppedisano also said he complained to his administrators that such a policy, besides being morally wrong, would open the district to lawsuits. For example, a male teacher in the district was recently arrested for recording a video of a female student changing her shirt.

“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 in his public comments. “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.”

As to concerns over the school being sued, Oppedisano says the district lawyer’s response was: “We are the largest employer in Pasco County. We get sued all the time. It’s no big deal.”

He says the lawyer also told him he was the only person in the district to oppose the new transgender policy. He says he was also told that for objecting he could lose his job and teaching certificate and “never teach in the state of Florida again.”

You can watch his testimony here, after which the room full of parents erupts in a standing ovation:

“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 said.

His colleague Stephanie Christensen, a fellow middle school physical education teacher, also testified at the board meeting. She also says the district’s attorney told her she was isolated in her concerns, an assertion contradicted by the community response once the policy was publicly known. When Christensen went searching for the specific policy regarding access to opposite-sex locker rooms, she could not find it anywhere, she said, and not even her principal knew it existed: “How can people object to an unwritten and unknown policy?”

It turns out the school district did have a written “best practices” document regarding transgender students, but teachers were told the policy was unwritten, said Richard Mast, an attorney for Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit law firm negotiating with the district about the policy.

Both Christensen and Oppedisano say the school district’s attorney threatened their jobs and teaching licenses if they continued to refuse to allow boys and girls into each other’s locker rooms. If the two objected based on their religious beliefs, this kind of pressure may have violated their legal rights to religious accommodations in the workplace. This hostile atmosphere is also suppressing the voices of fellow teachers who also oppose the policy now that they’ve learned about it, Christensen said.

“When I wrote a letter to administration stating my concern for the rights and privacy of all students, I was threatened,” Christensen told the Pasco County School Board. “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.”

The school district has also refused requests from parents to let them see the “LGBTQ Lending Library” maintained by the district’s LGBT liaison, Jackie Jackson-Dean, who also wrote the district’s transgender policies and guidance documents. “According to her website,” writes Liberty Counsel in a backgrounder, “the ‘library’ consists ‘of over 60 books, as well as several magazines, brochures, and pamphlets which can be ‘checked out by students, parents, or educators.’ This material constitutes ‘public records,’ which must be disclosed consistent with Florida law and school board policy for parental access.”

“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.”

Despite the community outcry, the school board has steadfastly refused to reconsider this policy they have never voted on, which Oppedisano, Christensen, and their students discovered back in September when the girl entered the boys’ locker room.

“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,” Christensen said in her stirring public comments, which you can watch below. “Today I am advocating for every student.”

“We are actively moving forward to protect the rights of students parents and teachers,” Mast said in a phone interview. Liberty Counsel has several requests for information and negotiation with the district pending.

Joy Pullmann is executive editor of The Federalist, mother of five children, and author of “The Education Invasion: How Common Core Fights Parents for Control of American Kids,” from Encounter Books. Her latest ebook is a list of more than 200 recommended classic books for children ages 3-7 and their parents. Find her on Twitter @JoyPullmann.

Photo U.S. National Archives / public domain

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