PE teacher threatened with punishment for objecting to trans student in locker room, law group claims

Superintendent says teacher was never punished: 'there haven't been any issues'

A Christian physical education teacher in Florida says he's been threatened with punishment for not agreeing to watch over and supervise a trans-identified student in the boys' locker room.

Dozens of residents in Pasco County Florida voiced their outrage at a school board meeting on Tuesday over the school district’s stance allowing trans-identified students to use locker rooms and showers consistent with their gender identity instead of their biological sex, The Tampa Bay Times Reports.

Many of the residents at the meeting go to the same church congregation as Robert Oppedisano, a PE teacher at Chasco Middle School in Port Richey.

The pro-bono conservative Christian legal nonprofit Liberty Counsel has voiced concerns about what it describes as an “unwritten policy” instituted by county school administrators in a letter to school board chair Cynthia Armstrong in late September.

The legal group has accused the county of violating the “conscience rights” of physical education teachers who objected to the policy.

“Both of the P.E. teachers, Robert O. and Stephanie C., objected to administrators’ orders to allow the girl into the bathroom, with no forewarning of the boys, or their parents, so that the boys could take steps to protect their privacy,” the letter explained. “Administrators told them that informing the boys so they could take steps to protect their privacy would be ‘discriminatory,’ and subject them to discipline.”

The letter explained the Oppedisano objected to an order to “supervise” the locker room even though a biologically female student began using the boys’ locker room on Sept. 27.  He was reportedly told by administrators that the student had “every right to use the locker room.”

Within the right to use the locker room are the rights to disrobe and shower in open showers, the Liberty Counsel explained.

“Robert will not knowingly place himself in a position to observe a minor female in the nude or otherwise in a state of undress,” the letter explained. “Now, Robert has been told by administrators that he will be transferred to another school as a discipline for ‘not doing your job in the locker room.’”

Oppedisano claims to have been told by the school district's lawyer that “this might cost you your job.”

“Your teacher certificate might be taken from you, to where you can no longer teach,” the teacher claims to have been told, according to Liberty Counsel.

Kathy Scalise, director of the Office for Employee Relations, threatened in an email to send the teacher home on administrative leave. “I think it sends a clear message that we will not tolerate his behavior,” she was quoted as writing.

At the school board meeting on Tuesday, Superintendent Kurt Browning clarified that Oppedisano “has not been disciplined at all, in any way shape or form.”

Browning also said that Chasco Middle School administrators have actually monitored the locker room in place of Oppedisano, The Tampa Bay Times notes. The superintendent also contended that students "do not undress in the locker room” and that even though there are showers in the locker rooms, “no one takes showers.”

“There have not been any issues on this at Chasco Middle,” Browning asserted.

Browning then asked school board attorney Dennis Alfonso to explain the district’s transgender-inclusive locker room policy.

Alfonso reportedly cited “federal guidelines, laws and court precedents,” including a federal court ruling this year allowing a transgender student to use locker rooms and bathrooms consistent with his gender identity in another Florida county.

It should be noted that while the Obama administration advised public school districts to create transgender-inclusive bathroom and locker room policies, the 2016 guidance was rescinded under the Trump administration.

According to The Tampa Bay Times, many opponents of the school district’s policies who attended the school board meeting didn't believe the district’s response and some even suggested that officials were lying.  

Critics have called on the board to adopt a policy requiring students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with the sex on their birth certificate. They also asked for the installation of single-stall restrooms to aid transgender students or others who might feel uncomfortable.

"Create policy with privacy for all in mind," parent Deena Driver was quoted as saying.

The opponents of the policy called for teachers to be protected from having to supervise students of the opposite biological sex in locker rooms if they have objections. They also called on the board to require parental approval for students to participate in after-school activities like the Gay-Straight Alliance.

The Federalist reports that the Pasco County School District implemented its transgender-inclusive policy after it hired school psychologist Jackie Jackson-Dean as its LGBT liaison.

Jackson-Dean is the primary author of the school district’s best “practices guide” that lists locker room and bathroom access for transgender students as a “right." The guide also advises school staff not to disclose a child’s gender identity to his or her parents.

The guide also pushes the Obama-era interpretation that federal laws that protect citizens on the basis of sex extend those protections on the basis of “gender.” Additionally, The Federalist notes, the guide calls on the school district to ignore the Trump administration’s reversal of Obama's Department of Education guidance.

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmithFollow Samuel Smith on Facebook: SamuelSmithCP

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