“We had a mom from Leon County, and her daughter was going to school and some people at school had decided that the girl was really a boy and not a girl. So they changed the girl’s name to a surname. boy, made her dress like a boy and doing all these things, without telling the mother or getting the mother’s consent. First of all, they shouldn’t do that at all. But doing these things in parents’ backs and saying that the parents should be excluded. That’s not true,” DeSantis said at a press conference in Jasper, Fla., on Tuesday.
DeSantis told the same story in Palm Beach County last Thursday. “Her daughter was in school in Leon County, and some 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 pronouns in quotes. They did these things without telling the mother, let alone getting the consent of the mother,” said DeSantis, who is considered a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate.
In the past, the governor’s office has confirmed that Desantis was referring to Littlejohn when describing a Leon County mother who had issues with how her child’s school handled her child’s gender identity.
The facts first: DeSantis’ account of what happened in Leon County isn’t quite what a limited number of publicly released documents show, and the governor continued to repeat the story even after those documents were made public at the end of last year. CNN has obtained emails showing that Littlejohn wrote to school in 2020 and informed a teacher that his child wanted to change his pronoun. Contrary to the Governor’s portrayal of the story, Littlejohn also wrote that she would not prevent her child from using preferred pronouns or a name of her choice at school. Littlejohn references those emails in his lawsuit against the school and they were reported by the Tallahassee Democrat in November.
Littlejohn did not respond to multiple inquiries from CNN regarding 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 know about the situation.
In an August 27, 2020 email to a teacher, Littlejohn said, in part, “This has been an incredibly difficult situation for our family and her dad and I are trying to be as supportive as possible. She is currently identifying as non-binary. She would like to use the new name [redacted] and prefers they/them pronouns. We haven’t changed her name yet at home, but I told her if she wanted to call herself [redacted] with his teachers, I won’t stop him.”
The teacher thanked Littlejohn and asked if she should share with other teachers.
Littlejohn explained that 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 upset us. I sincerely appreciate your support. I’m going to let her take the lead.”
But it’s what followed those emails that is now at the center of a lawsuit.
Nearly two months after the trades, Littlejohn and her husband, Jeffrey, filed a lawsuit against the Leon County School Board, as well as the district’s superintendent and deputy superintendent, over the district’s handling of the gender identity of her child. In the lawsuit, the parents claim that school officials met with their child and created a plan to support transgender/gender non-conforming students in accordance with policy. In a copy of a blank student support plan filed with the lawsuit, the plan lists the pronouns the child prefers, the toilets the child would use, and “room expectations for any overnight trips.” . According to 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 attempted to conceal information about her child.
“From the moment Mrs Littlejohn first emailed her child’s teacher advising our staff of the situation, this was handled in partnership with clear communication. We understand that outside entities are now involved, but the family has made it clear to school staff via email to allow their child to ‘take the lead’ and do ‘what you think is best,'” said Chris Petley, communications coordinator for Leon County schools, in a statement to CNN. “Furthermore, our Superintendent has met with the family and has pledged to change any vague or unclear policy language – which we have established a committee and are currently working on. to the student to continue to succeed in school.”
The parents hired attorneys from the Child & Parental Rights Campaign, an organization based in Georgia and Virginia, described on its website as “a nonprofit public interest law firm founded to defend the rights of parents to protect their children from the impacts of gender identity ideology”. .”
Littlejohn did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment. Her attorney from the Child & Parental Rights Campaign said she was unavailable for an interview.
DeSantis’ spokesperson told CNN the governor’s office had not seen the email exchange, but pointed to other media coverage that reported the Leon County superintendent apologized for how the situation had been handled.
“During the first meeting with the family, the superintendent apologized for everything the family was going through,” said Petley, the school system’s communications coordinator. “He was unaware of the email ordering teachers to let the child ‘take the lead.'”
The governor’s office did not specifically respond to a question about the differences between what the mother’s emails reveal and how the governor described her story.
CNN’s Alta Spells and Sara Weisfeldt contributed to this report.