TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Basic rules of English grammar dictate that singular nouns take singular pronouns and plural nouns take plural pronouns.
So when a fifth-grade teacher requested that students address her with nongendered pronouns such as “they” and “them,” it stirred consternation among parents (if not education officials) in the state’s capital city — and abroad.
Chloe Bressack, a 23-year-old math and science teacher at Canopy Oaks Elementary School in Tallahassee, recently sent a letter to parents that has gone viral on social media and made international headlines.
“One thing you should know about me is that I use gender neutral terms,” Ms. Bressack said in the single-page letter. “My prefix is Mx. (pronounced Mix). Additionally, 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.”
Parents, however, didn’t catch on as quickly and complained to the school’s and the school district’s administrators, who expressed support for the young teacher.
Still, Ms. Bressack issued another statement apologizing for any confusion her first 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,” the teacher wrote. “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.”
Her grammar lesson exploded across social networks and attracted the bemused attention of Britain’s Daily Mail and Switzerland’s Ticinonews.
On Tuesday, the Leon County School District announced that Ms. Bressack would be transferred to an adult basic education program effective immediately.
“Given the complexity of this issue, we both agreed a different environment would be best for Teacher Bressack’s educational career and for the young students at Canopy Oaks,” Superintendent Rocky Hanna said in a statement.
Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who now lives in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, about 150 miles west of Tallahassee, found nothing complex about the issue.
“I would yank my kid out of a classroom. I really would,” Mr. Huckabee told The Washington Times. “There’s no way that I would let my child be influenced by someone who is so devoid of common sense that they don’t understand that there are men and women, boys and girls. I’m appalled by that.”
Ms. Bressack is no stranger to controversy. At an LGBT rally this year at the Capitol Complex in Tallahassee, she addressed protesters who had gathered to denounce President Trump’s decision to eliminate transgender student policies imposed by former President Barack Obama.
“They tell me that my gender, my existence, is inappropriate,” Ms. Bressack said, according to thefamuanonline.com, which identified her as a K-12 transgender teacher. “I had people look me in the eye and tell me that I am selfish for being a teacher, selfish for putting myself into a position where I am around children and exposing them to the transgender lifestyle, whatever that is. I will not be spending my entire life pretending to be someone that I am not.”
Ms. Bressack has declined requests for media interviews.
Her short-lived pronoun pronouncement drew the support of several LGBT rights groups, including one that describes itself as conservative.
“We think that all people should be able to work in an environment that supports who they are,” said Jessica Fernandez, Florida director of Conservatives on the Right Side of Equality. “As long as who they are isn’t distracting to the main mission of their job, they should definitely have a voice in how they’re addressed at their place of work.”
But it appears that most parents were more amenable to the views of Mr. Huckabee, a former Baptist pastor.
“I’m going to go back to a biblical standard — male and female. God created them. That’s just reality,” he told The Times. “We can try to pretend that there’s no difference in the gender, but there is. There’s a difference that is to be celebrated.
“I just find it amazing that somehow we make it that a 6-year-old can decide his or her gender, but we don’t let them get married, drive a car, join the military or make career decisions,” Mr. Huckabee said. “Well, why do we not do that? Because they’re not mature enough to do that. And I am just stunned that there are people who, with a straight face, think that we ought to dismiss designations of gender.”