Swampscott agreement deals with gender fluidity

Title, pronouns, clothing of teacher covered in settlement

When Swampscott elementary school principal Thomas Shannon Daniels first came out as transgender in February, he indicated his gender was fluid.

“For me, that means I identify as both a male and a female, and I plan to move toward presenting myself and identifying myself as female,” he said.

Schools Superintendent Pamela Angelakis initially praised Daniels for his “courage, honesty, and transparency.” But a month later, following a parent petition that expressed “no confidence” in Daniels, Angelakis told him his contract would not be renewed at the end of the school year in June.

Four months later, Angelakis reached a settlement with Daniels allowing him to return to the school as a teacher. The agreement, a copy of which was obtained through a public records request, deals with the issues surrounding someone whose gender is fluid.

Under the terms of the agreement, Daniels must inform the school of the title and pronouns that he intends to use.  “Daniels’ present intention is to use the title ‘Mr. Daniels’ and he/him/his pronouns,” the agreement states.

The settlement also states that if, during the school year, Daniels decides that he wants to make changes in how he is referred to, he must give the school two weeks’ notice and be available to discuss whether communications with students, parents, and the community are necessary regarding the changes.

While Daniels, who is 52, retains the right to change his title and pronouns, he “does not intend to switch back and forth between multiple titles and pronouns throughout the school year and recognizes the importance of clarity and consistency,” according to the agreement.

In February, Daniels told the Boston Globe that he literally changed clothing four times that day.  But the settlement states that “Daniels has no intention of changing clothing throughout the day.”

The agreement states that, if appropriate, the parties’ communications to the school community will address the issue of clothing with a statement such as “Daniels is gender non-binary, meaning that [he] does not identify as fully male or fully female.  Daniels’ clothing choices may reflect that gender identity.”

As part of the settlement agreement, Daniels received a lump sum payment of $90,000, a third of which went to his lawyer.  A third of the $90,000 was paid out by the school’s insurance company.

Daniels will not be allowed to go back to his old job as principal at the Stanley Elementary School, which he ran for six years, earning $109,000 in his final year.  Instead, he will teach elementary school, where he will make about $79,000 — a 28 percent pay cut.

For now, Daniels is out on a paid leave of absence for the 2018-2019 school year, during which time he will work toward getting the necessary teaching recertifications required for him to teach in a Swampscott elementary school the following academic year.

To be eligible for reinstatement, Daniels must have a licensed psychiatrist certify that he can safely perform the essential functions of a Swampscott school teacher.

What Daniels went through in Swampscott sharply contrasts with what a fellow principal in another local suburb experienced.  In 2017, Asa Sevelius, the principal of Brookline’s Heath School, which covers pre-k through 8th grade, also announced that he was transgender.

“I heard very few negative comments, and most of them came from outside Brookline,” said Sevelius.  “Instead, I got a lot of support.  It was overwhelming.  It was gratifying.”  Sevelius said he anticipated things going smoothly because of Brookline’s “reputation for being a pretty progressive, pretty forward-looking town.”

Sevelius said Daniels did seek out his advice before coming out.

Howard Friedman, a Boston civil rights lawyer who represents transgender clients, said he thinks the provisions in the settlement agreement regarding clothing, pronouns, and titles are reasonable.

But Friedman was troubled by the requirement that a psychiatrist must certify Daniels’ fitness to teach.  “It is offensive,” he said. “It appears to be something the town insisted on to appease community members.”

Meet the Author
Friedman said the school system should use what happened with Daniels as a learning experience and establish written policies that are consistent with many of the terms of the settlement. “It would be ideal, for example, if they created policies for teachers, students, and staff who may transition their gender in the future,” he said.

Angelakis, the school superintendent, did not respond to an inquiry asking about any policy changes that may be instituted.