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State files to appeal pronoun ruling for transgender Hillsborough teacher

judge gavel, law books and scales of justice on desk in lawyer office
Hillsborough County Public Schools
Katie Wood, a transgender teacher at Lennard High School in Hillsborough County, is one of the plaintiffs.

Katie Wood, a transgender Hillsborough County teacher, challenged the state's restrictions on educators’ use of personal pronouns and titles in schools.

Lawyers for state education officials on Thursday filed a notice that they will appeal a court ruling that blocked enforcement of a 2023 law requiring a transgender teacher to use pronouns that align with her sex assigned at birth.

The 2023 law restricts educators’ use of personal pronouns and titles in schools.

Katie Wood, a transgender Hillsborough County teacher, and AV Schwandes, a nonbinary teacher fired last year by Florida Virtual School, sought preliminary injunctions as part of a lawsuit challenging the restrictions.

The challenge alleged the law violates the teachers’ First Amendment rights and runs afoul of a federal civil-rights law.

Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker on April 9 issued a preliminary injunction blocking state education officials from enforcing the law against Wood, but the injunction does not apply statewide.

Attorneys for the Florida Department of Education and other defendants had asked Walker to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the Legislature has discretion to “promote the state’s pedagogical goals and vindicate parental rights.”

Thursday’s notice by the defendants’ attorneys did not provide details of the appeal filed at the Atlanta-based U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, as is typical in such instances.

Walker’s decision, which also denied a preliminary injunction request by Schwandes, said that the law violated the First Amendment.

“This time, the state of Florida declares that it has the absolute authority to redefine your identity if you choose to teach in a public school. So, the question before this court is whether the First Amendment permits the state to dictate, without limitation, how public-school teachers refer to themselves when communicating to students. The answer is a thunderous ‘no,’” the judge wrote.

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