KANSAS CITY, Kansas (Alliance Defending Freedom) — In a victory for free speech at public schools, Fort Riley Middle School officials have agreed to pay $95,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees for violating a math teacher’s First Amendment rights when they reprimanded and suspended her for addressing a student by the student’s legal and enrolled name and forced her to conceal the student’s social transition from the student’s parents.
Attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom and Kriegshauser Ney Law Group represented Pamela Ricard in her lawsuit against school officials.
“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.”
“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 and one of more than 4,400 attorneys in the ADF Attorney Network. “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.”
Ricard was challenging a school district policy that forced her to use a student’s “preferred name” to address the student in class while using the student’s legal name when speaking to parents—actions that violated her conscience.
In May, the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas allowed Ricard’s lawsuit to proceed, finding that she was likely to prevail on her First Amendment free exercise of religion claim, and therefore granted her motion to halt enforcement of the parental communication portion of the district policy. Additionally, the court acknowledged that Ricard could continue addressing students by their preferred names while avoiding pronouns for students who have requested pronouns inconsistent with their biological sex. After the court’s ruling, the school board voted to revoke the parental communications policy at issue.
As part of the settlement in Ricard v. USD 475 Geary County Schools School Board Members, school officials have agreed to issue a statement that Ricard was in good standing without any disciplinary actions against her at the time of her retirement in May. In light of the favorable settlement, ADF attorneys filed a dismissal of the case Wednesday.
Published with permission from the Alliance Defending Freedom.