A Kansas public school system has agreed to pay a $95,000 settlement to a teacher who was suspended for “misgendering” a transgender student by using their birth name.
Fort Riley Middle School officials also forced the teacher, Pamela Ricard, to conceal the student’s social transition from their parents against her will.
Ricard had filed a lawsuit challenging the school district policy that forced her to use the student’s “preferred name” to address them in class while using their legal name when speaking to parents.
In the lawsuit, Ricard was represented by Alliance Defending Freedom and Kriegshauser Ney Law Group, who said in a statement that the policy “violated her conscience.”
“No school district should ever force teachers to willfully deceive parents or engage in any speech that violates their deeply held religious beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “We’re pleased to settle this case favorably on behalf of Pam, and we hope that it will encourage school districts across the country to support the constitutionally protected freedom of teachers to teach and communicate honestly with both children and parents.”
According to the statement, in May, a judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas allowed Ricard’s lawsuit to proceed. The court ruled that since she was likely to win the lawsuit on her her First Amendment free exercise of religion claim, a motion to halt enforcement of the parental communication portion of the district policy was granted.
“This case provides straightforward lessons for Kansas school boards: Schools shouldn’t lie to parents and teachers don’t forfeit their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse door,” said Joshua Ney, partner at Kriegshauser Ney Law Group, in a statement.
Ney continued, “the Geary County School District unsuccessfully tried to convince a federal court that a teacher should completely avoid using a child’s name during a parent teacher conference in order to hide new names and genders being used by the school for a child in a classroom. Absurdity and deception has its limits, especially in federal court. I’m glad the case clarifies the financial stakes for school boards if they attempt to force teachers to lie to parents about their students.”
In addition to the settlement, the court ruled that Ricard may continue to address students by their preferred names while avoiding any pronoun selections that are inconsistent with their biological sex.
After the court’s ruling, the school board voted to revoke the offending portion of the parental communications policy all together.