Parents, Students Surprised at Change in Teacher's Gender Identity

Biologically female Calif. music teacher told students to identify him as a man.

Oct. 16, 2008— -- Nearly two dozen children in a Vacaville, Calif., elementary school were yanked out of music class after a female teacher announced to the young students that he wants to be known as Mr. Clark.

Most parents of Foxboro Elementary School's approximately 750 students have left their children in the class taught by James Clark, the teacher who was known as Abbey Clark last year.

But they are disappointed that they heard the news through their young children instead of from Clark.

Susan Lostak, the school's PTA president whose 8-year-old son remains in Clark's class, said she had heard the day before school started that Abbey Clark was planning to return to school as James Clark.

So when Lostak's son got home that day, she asked if anything had been different in music class.

"He said, 'Miss Clark wants to be called Mr. Clark,'" Lostak said. And that was all her son had to say about it. "My son has no problems with it."

Meeting Mr. Clark

Foxboro parents told that outwardly there has been no change in appearance between the Abbey Clark that taught music last year and the James Clark that teaches this year.

Lostak said Clark had always dressed fairly androgynously, typically in khakis and button-down shirts. One parent said that when he started at the school as Abbey Clark, many parents and children thought he was a man.

Lostak's daughter, Casey Lostak, 12, moved on to middle school this year, but said that students at her school are also buzzing about the music teacher's announcement.

Casey Lostak had Clark as a teacher for four years and took clarinet and trumpet lessons in class. She said Clark was a good teacher.

"I liked her," she said. "She was really fun and really nice."

Casey Lostak said she was a little confused at first by the change from Ms. Clark to Mr. Clark when she heard about it from her mother. But the news hasn't done anything to change her opinion of Clark.

"Sometimes I'm afraid I'm going to call her by the wrong name, like Mrs. Clark instead of Mr. Clark," she said.

Parents Unhappy With Surprise

Some parents argued at a recent school board meeting that they felt like their rights had been violated.

Parent Angela Weinzinger declined to comment to, but was quoted by Sacramento's ABC affiliate News10 as saying she'd pulled her three children from Clark's class.

"I wasn't given the opportunity to make a choice on what I wanted to do with the situation," Weinzinger said.

Clark did not respond to multiple phone messages and e-mails seeking comment.

Travis Unified School District Superintendent Kate Wren Gavlak said state privacy laws have prevented her from discussing anything about Clark's personal life with anyone, including parents.

"Our responsibility is to not disclose any private or confidential information about our employees," she told

Clark has taught at Foxboro for four years and teaches music and chorus to students in all grades. Students at Foxboro are typically assigned to music classes when their regular teachers are in preparatory periods.

Gavlak said 23 children from 15 families have been removed from Clark's classes.

Foxboro parent Bonnie Ogden said she's disappointed with the way Clark's announcement was handled, but will not pull her 10-year-old daughter out of his class.

"My only concern is that … he has not communicated that to the parents, only the children," she said.

Ogden said she understands that the school district had to respect Clark's privacy rights and could not disclose his situation.

Her daughter, she said, really enjoys his class.

Both Ogden and Lostak said that for the kids who were pulled out of Clark's class, it's the parents who are upset, not the children. Ogden theorized that the children who are outspoken against Clark at school are most likely being fed the information from their parents who don't approve of his lifestyle.

"I think the parents are making a big deal out if it," Lostak said, "which makes it a big deal for the kids."

Clark's profile on the social-networking site Friendster, under the name Abbey Clark, said he is 25 years old and grew up in upstate New York. He includes transgender issues, reading and writing music among his many hobbies and interests.

Being Transgendered

Daryl Presgraves, spokesman for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, said schools can be a "terrifying" place for gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender teachers, who often face harassment from parents, students and their peers.

Presgraves is not involved with Clark's situation, but said that it was important that his rights and privacy be protected.

"This is not something that has come to the teacher lightly," he said. "The teacher should be respected for what he's gone through."

Last year commissioners in Largo, Fla., voted to dismiss the city manager after he announced that he would begin living as a woman in preparation for a sex-change operation.

But school officials in several school districts across the country, including New York, New Jersey and Illinois, have retained teachers and administrators who either underwent sex reassignment surgery or began living as a member of the opposite sex.