This transgender student was deadnamed in class, and his mom wants school boards to do more

A transgender student in HWDSB was called the wrong name in front of his peers after his mother spent months trying to ensure it wouldn't happen.

Caspian Richard's mother said she spent all summer trying to get the board's attention to avoid the error

Caspian Richard, a transgender Grade 8 student at Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, said his legal name appeared in front of students during class even though he uses a different name now. (Submitted by Hannah Pynckle)

Caspian Richard had only a moment to react when he was faced with a worst-case scenario during his first class back in school.

The 13-year-old student who transitioned earlier this year was taking part in virtual schooling at Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) when he heard a familiar name. But it wasn't Caspian. It was his legal name. His "dead name."

His heart raced and butterflies filled his stomach.

"It was a nervous feeling," Caspian said in a phone interview on Wednesday. "I was really worried about it."

It's unclear if the other student meant to use the wrong name. The school's new technology was showing some students his legal name and other students his actual name.

In that moment, he looked to his mom, Hannah Pynckel. She was at his side in their Upper Stoney Creek home.

Caspian Richards was doing virtual learning from home when someone used the wrong name. The board said multiple students faced the same problem. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

"I said, 'Ignore it, laugh at it, pretend it doesn't exist ... if you [don't] want to be outed, just play it off,'" she told him.

Caspian improvised. So did his teacher. Together, they smoothed it over.

Still, Caspian has been thinking about it since.

"There's always kids coming in and out of the class and I'm worried it'll happen again."

With HWDSB's massive reorganization underway, there's a good chance his class and teacher could switch.

Family struggled to get HWDSB's attention

Pynckel saw the deadnaming issue coming.

She spent all summer trying to avert the situation, but struggled to get the board's attention. She left calls and sent emails but said she didn't get a response from the board or the virtual school principal.

Every time Pynckel used the school's online systems, Caspian's legal name appeared.

"I knew the board was failing on this," Pynckel said. "This is a matter of safety and a matter of having a child go in with the correct identity. This isn't something to just brush off."

The pandemic delayed her son's class for weeks. In that time, she was luckily able to reach someone in the board and Caspian's teacher (who has been especially helpful, says Pynckel).

Caspian missed days of school just to make sure his first class would be routine.

After doing some test runs and having a game plan, they thought Caspian would be safe.

Technology betrayed him.

Multiple students were called the wrong name

Caspian also isn't the only student who had this problem in September.

HWDSB confirmed multiple students raised concerns that their names were incorrect on board-supported platforms like Microsoft Teams or The Hub.

The issue was first revealed during a board of trustees meeting on Monday, about a month after Caspian was deadnamed.

Pynckel acknowledges it is a challenging time for the school board with reorganization during the pandemic, but thinks they failed her son.

"The board has been basically silent throughout this process ... these kids are falling through the cracks," she said.

"It's been a nightmare."

HWDSB apologizes and develops new procedure

HWDSB was unable to accommodate an interview for this story, but Sharon Stephanian, superintendent of equity and well-being, apologized in a written statement to CBC News.

"All students must feel safe and accepted while physically at school and working online. An act of deadnaming is taken seriously, whether it is done in an online class or in person. We apologize for any harm that was caused," read her message.

"Unfortunately this situation occurred as a result of new technology being introduced."

Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board apologized for the issue, blaming new technology. It has also put more processes in place to prevent it from happening again. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

The board formed a team to fix the issue and has notified principals. It is also developing a Gender Identity and Gender Expression Procedure, "which is being developed from an anti-oppressive lens and is being informed by those with lived experience."

"We are committed to removing barriers to ensure that staff accommodate a student's needs, as well as affirm and celebrate each student's identity," read Stephanian's message. "We continue to work with families and community partners in support of HWDSB Two-Spirit and LGBTQIA+ students."

Caspian accepts the apology and says it is good to see the board working toward a fix.

Pynckel, meanwhile, says she isn't satisfied yet.

She hopes the board will do more to reach out to LGBTQ families and ensure it doesn't happen again.


Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.