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Superintendent Apologizes Over Gender-Neutral 8th Grader Sanctioned for Wearing a Dress

| October 17, 2015

Not your call. (Prayitno)

Not your call. (Prayitno)

On Tuesday, an eighth grade student at Fairview Middle School in Leon County wore a dress to school. That should not have been remarkable but for the administration’s assumptions about the student, and a lack of clarity about school policy regarding gender equality.


The student’s sex at birth was male. But the student identifies as agender, or gender-neutral: neither boy nor girl, a gender status as normal as any other but for its relative rarity or lack of visibility or, in less fortunate, more discriminatory cases, its lack of acceptance or understanding. It would be inaccurate, for example, to refer to that student at Fairview as a boy or a girl, as he or she. (It would be just as inaccurate to assume that the individual is asexual, among other false assumptions regarding the gender-neutral.)

Fairview Middle School administrators insisted on declaring the student a boy. They decreed that the school’s dress code was violated: dresses, the school judged, are not for boys. They called the student’s parents, requesting that they bring different clothes. The administration later justified the move by claiming that it was attempting to protect the students from other students allegedly pointing, gawking and making fun. Yet it was also other students who banded together in defense of the targeted student’s choice, and in an attempt to bring greater awareness of gender equality to middle school students.

The student, at any rate, chose to withdraw from Fairview rather than comply with the school’s demands.

By the end of the week Leon County School Superintendent Jackie Pons was formally apologizing for the way the school–and particularly Principal Scott Hansen–handled the issue, but was largely prompted to do so by a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Florida on Friday.

“Restricting the student’s attire in this way violated the student’s federal constitutional and statutory rights,” the ACLU’s Daniel B. Tilley wrote. “Schools may impose a gender-neutral requirement of proper, even formal, attire for school events (provided it does not create an undue financial burden for students). But schools cannot rely on sex stereotypes that require, for example, that boys wear tuxedos or suits and that girls wear dresses. Protections against sex stereotyping also protect transgender and gender-nonconforming students who seek to act and dress in accordance with
their gender identity.”

Tilley also noted that under the First Amendment, a student’s gender choice is the student’s own and may be expressed by whatever choice of clothes that student picks, as long as it conforms with the dress code that boys and girls follow. Legal precedents are rich in protecting students making such choices. “I note that you have acknowledged that it is the school environment that needs to be addressed, not the student’s attire,” Tilley wrote the superintendent, after the superintendent’s comments to that effect were reported in the Tallahassee Democrat. But the superintendent had been merely “concerned by the situation,” according to the paper (on Oct., 15) and had by then not yet spoken to the family.

“We expect that the dress code—whether the current version or any amended version—will be applied in a gender neutral manner so that this student—should they return to Fairview—and any other student will be permitted to wear clothing regardless whether it is consistent with gender stereotypes.”

It wasn’t long that day before the superintendent responded with an explicit apology that recognized that the school had unquestionably erred.

“Our District takes issues like these very seriously and I regret that an incident occurred,” Pons wrote. “I have met with the mother of the student and have apologized to her and her child on behalf of our school district. I have reviewed Board Policy 5511 regarding Dress Codes and the Dress Code for Fairview Middle School and find no language that requires a student to dress a certain way based on gender. I can confirm to you that the Leon County School District’s policies do not contain or allow student clothing restrictions based on gender.”

The superintendent said the district’s policies and procedures would be updated accordingly so that school staff are “sensitive to ever-evolving issues.”

“In a meeting two weeks ago,” the Democrat reported, “School Board members and administrators kicked off National Bullying Prevention Month by touting the importance of tolerance. Students in schools across the county, Fairview included, had donned blue shirts on Oct. 5 to support the initiative.”

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31 Responses for “Superintendent Apologizes Over Gender-Neutral 8th Grader Sanctioned for Wearing a Dress”

  1. Ed T says:

    Wow, the country is going to hell in a hand basket

  2. Geezer says:

    I knew a person from Middlesex, NJ back in the seventies.

  3. m&m says:

    If his parents allow this both them and the child need help from professionals.

  4. Donna Heiss says:

    Clothing and gender are two different things. Can someone tell me what gender neutral actually is?

  5. blondee says:

    Get ready for “gender neutral” bathrooms! *facepalm*

  6. Layla says:

    Get ready to home school. The social agenda has taken over the education system.

  7. Sherry says:

    Yes. . . all you families who need 2 incomes to survive because of the low wages paid these days . . . one parent needs to quite work to “Home School” because of the obsession on whether that “person” in a dress has a penis or not!

    Gender neutral toilets are common in many other countries and even in some areas of the US. . . and the vast majority of incidents of invasion of privacy are only in the perverse minds of the puritanically dirty and close minded.

  8. Sherry says:

    In this case, it’s the next generation of enlightened “students” who are actually teaching the school administrators about social justice. They should certainly all be commended! Right On Students!!!

  9. Nancy N. says:

    blondee – not sure how you get from letting both sexes have the same dress code to the genders being allowed to mix in bathrooms. That’s a classic right wing scare tactic that has nothing actually to do with the issue at hand.

    Layla – and by “social agenda” you mean of course all those people who are different from you and therefore scare you and therefore must be either ignored, put down, or avoided at all costs. Decrying the “social agenda” is just bigotry dressed up in nice political terms. You can put lipstick on a pig…but it’s still a pig.

  10. JonQPublik says:

    Why yes, it is a social thing. Not only are schools responsible for teaching your children, but they’re also responsible for teaching your children the right way to be in society.

    Social structures are ever evolving; teachers, school administrators and representatives of school systems are required to ensure children be up-to-date with the correct behavior within society. Not just YOUR children, but ALL children. To teach them the (now antiquated, as it naturally goes) social structures that were present when your or I were growing up would not benefit anyone, especially the children.

    If you refuse to believe that your children are taught the right thing to do, or you refuse to allow them to grow up respecting and earning respect from their peers, don’t cry foul when they do the wrong thing, and society discards them. That would be your fault alone.

  11. Anonymous says:

    a boy in a dress isn’t gender neutral-hes a boy in a dress…..

    and maybe the parents should be teaching him common sense–not to create a ruckus in school by drawing attention to himself{that’s right-I said him}

  12. ken says:

    I feel sorry for Alex but this is not normal.
    Newspeak is a language the government uses in the novel 1984 to limit freedom of thought.
    Identifying as gender neutral is not normal but I guess the politically correct thought police redefined the word normal. It seems that abnormal is the new normal.

  13. Layla says:

    Nancy, you could not be more wrong. Name calling won’t improve the situation here. The facts are that our students are failing, miserably, under this extremely social propaganda agenda. Much of the reason for that is that these are issues better handled by parents, not force fed to our students.

    If you disagree with that, I am sorry, but I will not call you a bigot in the process.

  14. uplifting says:

    What a great story to wake up to. So happy the students stood for what is right. It’s news like this that makes an American feel good about their country. If a boy wants to wear a dress fine, if a girl wants to wear jeans and a tshirt that should be fine too. God bless America

  15. snapperhead says:

    “Our District takes issues like these very seriously and I regret that an incident occurred,” Pons wrote. “I have met with the mother of the student and have apologized to her and her child on behalf of our school district.

    Is an apology due to the mother for genderfying “her” as the mother? Maybe the dad identifies as the mother and the mother is the dad. WTF

  16. Nancy N. says:

    “our students are failing, miserably, under this extremely social propaganda agenda” – nice talking point. But it’s very vague and completely unsupported. Failing at what? Got any evidence to support that?

    Teaching kids to be accepting of others isn’t an “extremely social propaganda agenda”. It’s prevention of bullying, of suicide, of emotional trauma, and of other horrible things.

    Anonymous – your argument about teaching the child not to cause a ruckus is despicable victim blaming, the same as blaming a rape victim for what she’s wearing, or a black child for wearing a hoodie. Marginalized groups shouldn’t have to “tread lightly” for fear of aggravating their oppressors.

  17. Glooby Gloob says:

    Kids do this sort of thing for attention and the school admins played right into the student’s hand. With the PC police these days it’s best to just leave it be.

  18. Outsider says:

    Give me a fucking break!

  19. DJR says:

    Now if the teachers could only get students like him to learn the English language and use it properly, perhaps society could make headway. The idea of using a plural pronoun for one person is sheer idiocy.

  20. tomc says:

    America, the land of women…and whatever?

  21. Donna Heiss says:

    I still want to know what gender neutral is? Does it mean the person does not identify as male or female?

  22. Nancy N. says:

    Yes, also known by the term “genderqueer”. They prefer no to be identified as either male or female and may adopt androgynous gender behavior, or even cross lines back and forth in appearance.

  23. Katniss says:

    gender neutral means a person has not decided were they fit in yet with there gender. Don’t judge unless you want o be judged. rember when you judge a person ten others are judging you.

  24. Catherine says:

    What will happen now is that no one will be allowed to wear dresses. One person or group just demands that we all change for them. I am really tired of this. You can’t always get what you want. You won’t die if you can’t wear a dress to school. Wear one at home. When I was in elementary school, girls were not allowed to wear pants. We didn’t call the ACLU. We didn’t die. We turned out fine. It wasn’t all about us. We just followed the rules and moved on.

  25. Nancy N. says:

    Catherine, would you tell black people during segregation to “just follow the rules and move on” and that they “won’t die if they can’t sit in the front of the bus”?

    It’s about equal treatment and not being discriminated against for who you are. Just because in this case it’s an identity that you don’t understand or aren’t comfortable with, doesn’t make it any less unfair.

  26. Donna Heiss says:

    Katniss, I hope you don’t think I was judging anyone. I don’t care enough. I just really didn’t know what gender neutral was. Now that I know, (thank you Nancy), it sounds like living confusion and quite chaotic for the person living with this, perhaps, disorder?

  27. Sherry says:

    No one is requiring that “we all change for them”! This young person is just asking for their rights to CHOOSE how they dress in a way that is within the dress code. . . while not being gender specific. This student isn’t asking anyone else to change anything! They are not hurting anyone!

    Are they not entitled to their privacy? Is hoping that our society will finally evolve to be NON-judgmental and accepting of “everyone” not OK? This young person is dealing with finding their rightful, comfortable, successful place in our culture. . . may they please be allowed to do that without labels, adult bullying, discrimination and judgement? Who is to say exactly what is “normal” and what is a “disorder” . . . do we have professional psychiatrists commenting here? If they were. . . they would certainly object to the labeling, etc. that is going on in these comments.

  28. DJR says:

    In a more rational era, people like that were considered insane, and plural pronouns were not used for an individual. This deluded, and apparently fatherless, young man is not a “they,” “their,” or “them.” That’s absurd, and anyone who uses such language for “him” is also acting absurdly.

  29. Field of Dreams says:

    It is stated very clearly in the very beginning of this article: “The student identifies as agender, or gender-neutral: neither boy nor girl…”

    The depths of ignorance in this country continues to astonish me, yet it really shouldn’t. In the 64 years I’ve been alive, I have never felt such hatred and lack of empathy from my own brothers and sisters, my own fellow citizens, about THEIR fellow citizens, over things that they can no longer even be bothered to TRY to comprehend. Even when it is explained to them in black and white, they continue to act as if the words make no sense.

    Here’s the thing–when words or concepts make no sense, most normal people will try and make sense of them in practical, grown-up ways. What I see here is nothing of the sort, save for a select few commenters. The rest of you wallow in your ignorance and wear it as if it’s a badge of honor. It’s pathetic.

    I’m not surprised that some of you Just Don’t Understand this particular subject–if you “get it” or not, I really don’t care. I just really wish we’d stop fostering the insane fantasy that such ugly national discourse is a divine right to any of us. When I say “divine right”, I mean, “beyond the Constitution”. You’re free to make an ass out of yourself with your Big American Free Speech all you want, but that is NOT a divine right and it’s a huge embarrassment to people whose minds don’t need to be pried open with a claw-hammer, every time a “controversial subject” raises itself. It is NOT a divine right to be so crass and uncaring, and if you’re proud of that kind of behavior, you’re as big a part of the societal problems in this country as the kids you excoriate in print with your endless, bigoted, fear-mongered, propagandized rambling.

    It would be nice to see Flaglerlive make “comments” something one has to actively choose to see, like quite a few other sites offer. Sure, I could click away and not read them, but you get to the end of any given article and there they are. It like watching a train wreck. You just can’t help but stare at it…

  30. Just me says:

    Todays America you can do whatever you want BUT if another says something about the crazy ass thing you do THEY are hateful and intolerant and you are the “normal” one. This society is nuts.

  31. Sherry says:

    LOL! Thanks so much for my morning laugh!

    My, my, my. . . I do think that we see comments here from macho old white guys who are shaking in their boots. Yes, our country’s demographics are a “changin'” ! Yes, women are finally becoming a strong force at the polls and in commentary. You know those negro slaves that your ancestors “brung” here to work the fields generations ago, and now those Mexicans brought over to do the same. . . they are “gettin'” mighty uppity ! Wanting actual equality and education for their children. . . when we all know they came from apes and “we” came from the Garden of Eden. Then you’ve got men marrying men and wanting to use “ladies” toilets. We need to buy more guns to protect ourselves from those “preverts” and
    nigger lovers. LOL! LOL! LOL!

    Look guys. . . demanding over and over that we all just get in the labeled boxes that white males have created for us, and start behaving ourselves according to YOUR definition of “normal” is sounding more and more ludicrous. . . especially to our next generations. Our society is bending and changing to accommodate the wonderful diversity of the majority of people who actually live and thrive in it. It is evolving whether you like it or not. You can either get with the program and go with the flow, or continue living in your close minded fear and hatred. . . ending with your gun clutched tightly against your chest in your coffin. Maybe St. Peter will actually let you take it into heaven. . . just keep believing that and see how divinely happy your life on earth will continue to be.

    Peace, Love and Joy. . . and thanks again for the laugh!

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