JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. — Drew Adams knows only too well the challenges of fighting his school district for inclusion.
The transgender activist spent the past two years fighting St. Johns County Schools to use the bathroom of his choice at Nease High School.
But even he was surprised to learn about a recent email from a Duval County teacher refusing a student’s request to be referred to as “she.”
“Duval County has a good reputation for being accommodating of trans students,” Adams said. “It is surprising.”
In the Aug. 5 email, Sandalwood High School math teacher Thomas Caggiano flatly refuses to call the trans student by the pronoun of her choice. "I will NOT refer to you with female pronouns,” Caggiano wrote. “If this is not acceptable for you, change classes."
Caggiano continued, “I will call you by any reasonable name you like, but the pronouns are not a negotiable thing for me."
School district policy requires that gendered pronouns be used as requested by trans students. Specifically, it says students, “should be addressed by the name/gender pronoun with which they are comfortable. Some examples include He/She; They/Them; or Ze/Zir. This list is not meant to be exhaustive.”
Sandalwood Principal Saryn Hatcher responded swiftly when notified about the email by the student. “Your wishes will be honored,” she wrote, promising to "handle" it.
Since being posted to social media, Caggiano’s email has generated a number of angry Tweets, some calling for his firing with the hashtag #FireCaggiano.
Caggiano did not respond to emails or calls for comment.
District spokesperson Laureen Ricks called the matter “unfortunate” but a “teachable moment.” She said school staff would be offered additional training. Asked if Caggiano faces discipline, Ricks said the matter has been referred to the district's Office of Equity and Inclusion/Professional Standards, which could conduct an investigation.
The district has also responded on Twitter via @DuvalSchools, posting a link with information for filing a complaint.
Adams, who won his case in federal court only to see it appealed, says it’s difficult to overestimate the significance of teachers properly identifying transgender students.
“Pronouns are the bare minimum for respecting a trans students’ identity,” he says, but honoring that request is pretty easy.
“It impacts you very little to use the correct pronouns," Adam says. "It’s very easy for you to just say “she/ “her” in reference to the student. But it would change this student’s entire world and make the student’s day so much better. …So do that! Be a positive role model, instead of someone who the student’s going to look back on as a bully.”