Does James Like to Be Called Jimmy? Not So Fast in Florida

Some districts now want parental OK before using nicknames, alternate names for trans students
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 11, 2023 1:30 PM CDT
Does James Like to Be Called Jimmy? Not So Fast in Florida
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/Drazen Zigic)

A new school year has kicked off in many spots in the South, and two counties in Florida are already making waves for a correspondence that's been delivered to educators and parents. WESH reports that Seminole County sent an email to families this week noting that if their kids prefer to go by any other name in school other than the one on their birth certificate—i.e., a nickname, middle name, or totally different name altogether—parents need to give written permission first. "Anything that's a deviation from the legal name will need the parent's consent," says a spokesperson for Seminole County Public Schools, even for something as simple as, say, a child named Robert who prefers Rob or Bobby.

A memo was also sent to officials in schools in Orange County, along with a similar parental permission form. In this memo, a mention is specifically made about how to handle transgender student names. "If the student's legal name is Robert, but the student identifies as a transgender girl and uses the name Roberta, the parent may authorize a teacher or other personnel to call the student Roberta," the memo reads. However, it adds, state rules prohibit teachers or staff from using a student's preferred pronouns if they don't match with the student's sex assigned at birth.

According to Orange County's memo, all 67 counties in Florida will soon be mandated to use this type of permission form, reports the Daytona Beach News-Journal. As of Friday, only three other counties other than Orange and Seminole have implemented it or said they plan to, including Volusia, Marion, and Escambia. The new guidance emerged as the result of changes made in July to the Florida Administrative Code by the state's Board of Education—which in turn was driven by Florida House Bill 1069, controversial legislation passed in May that bars a mandate that school employees must use "certain titles and pronouns."

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The bill, often referred to as the "Don't Say Gay" law, was signed by GOP Gov. Ron Desantis, "whose birth name is Ronald," the News-Journal notes. The email sent to parents in Seminole County explained the needed permissions were "to strengthen the rights of parents and safeguard their child's educational record," per People. The news saw pushback online after trans activist Alejandra Caraballo put up a post, since deleted. "They are absolutely never going to require permission for anyone except trans kids, and we all know it," one commenter wrote. (More Florida stories.)

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