July 2, 2022

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Fact check: Emails show one of DeSantis’ stories backing the need for so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law didn’t happen as the governor says

5 min read



CNN
 — 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has repeatedly pointed to the case of a family in the state’s Leon County to explain the need for a controversial new law, dubbed by critics the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, that bans schools from teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity, particularly to young children.

On several occasions since signing the bill into law, DeSantis has highlighted the story of a woman named January Littlejohn, a registered Republican, who says she was not fully consulted about the school’s gender-affirming plan for her child.

“We had a mother from Leon County, and her daughter was going to school and some people in the school had decided that the daughter was really a boy and not a girl. So they changed the girl’s name to a boy’s name, had her dress like a boy and on doing all this stuff, without telling the mother or getting consent from the mother. First of all, they shouldn’t be doing that at all. But to do these things behind the parents’ back and to say that the parents should be shut out. That is wrong,” DeSantis said during a news conference in Jasper, Florida, on Tuesday.

DeSantis had told the same story in Palm Beach County last Thursday. “Her daughter was in school up in Leon County, and some of the people at school decided that her daughter was really a boy and wanted to identify as a boy. So they changed her name. They changed her quote pronouns. They did these things without telling the mother, much less getting the mother’s consent,” said DeSantis, who is considered a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate.

In the past, the governor’s office has confirmed Desantis is referring to Littlejohn when describing a Leon County mom who had issues with the way her child’s school handle her child’s gender identity.

Facts First: DeSantis’ account of what happened in Leon County is not quite what a limited number of records that have been made public show, and the governor has continued to repeat the story even after those records were made public late last year. CNN obtained emails that show Littlejohn wrote the school in 2020 and notified a teacher that her child wanted to change pronouns. Contrary to the governor’s portrayal of the story, Littlejohn also wrote that she would not stop her child from using preferred pronouns or name of choice at school. Littlejohn references these emails in her lawsuit against the school and they were reported by the Tallahassee Democrat in November.

Littlejohn did not respond to multiple requests from CNN about the emails, which show only one conversation in a much more complicated matter between a family and their child’s school. Here’s what we do know about the situation.

In an August 27, 2020, email to a teacher, Littlejohn stated, in part, “This has been an incredibly difficult situation for our family and her father and I are trying to be as supportive as we can. She is currently identifying as non-binary. She would like to go by the new name [redacted] and prefers the pronouns they/them. We have not changed her name at home yet, but I told her if she wants to go by the name [redacted] with her teachers, I won’t stop her.”

The teacher thanked Littlejohn and asked if she should share with other teachers.

Littlejohn explained it was difficult and confusing, and went on to write, “Whatever you think is best or [redacted] can handle it herself.”

In another email the same day, Littlejohn told the teacher, “This gender situation has thrown us for a loop. I sincerely appreciate your support. I’m going to let her take the lead on this.”

But it’s what followed these emails that is now at the center of a lawsuit.

Nearly two months after the exchanges, Littlejohn and her husband, Jeffrey, filed a lawsuit against the Leon County School Board, as well as the district’s superintendent and assistant superintendent, over how the district handled her child’s gender identity. In the lawsuit, the parents claim school officials met with their child and created a Transgender/Gender Nonconforming Student Support Plan according to policy. In a copy of a blank student support plan filed with the lawsuit, the plan includes which pronouns the child preferred, which restrooms the child would use and “expectations regarding rooming for any overnight trips.” According to the Leon County Schools, “less than 10 [students] in a district of 33,000” have student support plans.

Littlejohn claims that when she asked the school for more information, the school denied her access to meetings and information and tried to conceal information regarding her child.

“From the moment Mrs. Littlejohn first emailed her child’s teacher to inform our staff of the situation, this has been handled together in partnership with clear communication. We understand that outside entities have now become involved, but the family clearly instructed the school staff via email to allow their child to ‘take the lead on this’ and to do ‘whatever you think is the best,’ ” Chris Petley, Leon County Schools communications coordinator, said in a statement to CNN. “Additionally, our superintendent met with the family and committed to amend any vague or unclear policy language–of which we have created a committee and are working on currently. We truly hope for a swift outcome in this case in order to allow the student to continue to succeed in school.”

The parents hired attorneys from Child & Parental Rights Campaign, an organization based out of Georgia and Virginia, described on its website as “a nonprofit public-interest law firm founded to defend parents’ rights to shield their children from the impacts of gender identity ideology.”

Littlejohn did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment. Her attorney from Child & Parental Rights Campaign said she was not available for an interview.

The spokesperson for DeSantis told CNN that the governor’s office has not seen the email exchange but pointed out coverage from other news outlets that have reported the Leon County superintendent apologized for how the situation had been handled.

“In the initial meeting with the family the superintendent apologized for everything the family was going through,” said Petley, the communications coordinator for the school system. “He was unaware of the email directing the teachers to let the child ‘take the lead.’ ”

The governor’s office did not specifically respond to a question about the differences in what the mother’s emails reveal and how the governor portrayed her story.

2022-04-06 07:00:28

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