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Teacher suspended for not using student’s he/him pronouns gets $95K from Kansas district

A person wears a gender neutral pronoun jacket at a 'Rainbow Runway for Equality' to kick off Pride Month on June 1, 2022. (Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images/TNS)

A Kansas school district agreed to settle a lawsuit after suspending a teacher who had refused to use a student’s preferred name and pronouns due to religious reasons.

Attorneys for Pamela Ricard called the settlement a “victory for free speech at public schools.” The Geary County School District, where Ricard was employed as a math teacher at Fort Riley Middle School, agreed to pay her $95,000 in damages.

“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,” said Tyson Langhofer, the director of the Alliance Defending Freedom Center for Academic Freedom.

The Geary County School District said it had no comment when reached by McClatchy News on Wednesday, Aug. 31.

Ricard received a three-day suspension during the spring 2021 semester when she would only address a particular student “by the student’s legal and enrolled last name” and not his preferred name or the “he/him” pronouns he uses, according to the lawsuit filed in March. The teacher was warned that any additional misgendering or calling any student by a name they do not go by would lead to further disciplinary action.

In order to be “respectful to the student without compromising” her own beliefs, she referred to the student as “Miss (last name),” the lawsuit states.

Her attorney stated Ricard regularly uses last names instead of first names “as a more formal way of addressing students or getting students’ attention.”

The school district, according to Ricard’s attorneys, also forced the teacher to conceal the student’s social transition to his parents. Ricard was supposed to use the student’s preferred pronouns and preferred name in class, but the student’s legal name with parents.

Ricard asked for a religious exemption for the school’s policy regarding the use of preferred names and pronouns, but the school refused, according to the lawsuit.

When the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas allowed the lawsuit to proceed in May, the court gave Ricard permission to “continue addressing students by their preferred names, while avoiding pronouns for students who have requested pronouns inconsistent with their biological sex,” attorneys said in a news release.

The teacher retired in May, and as part of the settlement, the district agreed to issue a statement that she “was in good standing without any disciplinary actions against her,” her attorneys state.

Court records show the case was voluntarily dismissed on Aug. 31 following the settlement.

“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,” ADF attorney Joshua Ney said.

“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.”


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