A Kansas school has agreed to pay a middle school teacher $95,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees for violating her First Amendment rights when it suspended her for using a transgender-identifying student’s legal name instead of the student’s preferred name.
Pamela Ricard, who taught math at Fort Riley Middle School, claimed in her lawsuit that the student in question had never asked her to use a name or pronoun different from the student’s legal records.
In May, a federal judge sided with Ricard in her lawsuit and said she was likely to succeed in her claim against a specific school policy that prevents teachers from disclosing a student’s transgender name and pronouns to parents unless the student approves it. The judge said the policy likely violates her religious liberty rights under the First Amendment.
Ricard, who is Christian, said in her lawsuit she believes the Bible “prohibits dishonesty and lying” and that parents have a “fundamental right to control the upbringing and education of their children.”
“[Ricard] believes that addressing students one way at school and a different way when speaking to their parents is dishonest,” the court’s May decision said. “Being dishonest violates her sincere religious beliefs.”
Fort Riley Middle School officials have agreed to pay Ricard $95,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees to settle the case. The district said her practice of using students’ preferred first names but avoiding the use of pronouns does not violate school policy. She retired in May.
Alliance Defending Freedom represented Ricard.
“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. “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.”
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Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Andrea Obzerova
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.