The teacher filed a lawsuit against Geary County Schools after receiving a three-day suspension for refusing to use transgender students’ preferred ponouns.
A Kansas teacher who cited her religious beliefs while refusing to call transgender students by their preferred names and pronouns has reached a $95,000 settlement with school district officials.
According to CNN, Pamela Ricard, who teaches math at Fort Riley Middle School, was suspended for violating the Geary County School’s Diversity and Inclusion Policy.
The policy, says CNN, requires educators to refer to students by their preferred names and pronouns.
However, Ricard filed a lawsuit after suspension, alleging that her religious beliefs prevent her from respecting transgender students’ preferences.
Earlier this year, the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas had allowed Ricard’s lawsuit against the district to proceed, finding that “she was likely to prevail on her First Amendment free exercise of religion claim, and granted her motion to stop enforcement of the parental communication portion of the district policy.”
Attorneys for Ricard said that the lawsuit was dismissed by the court after their client announced the settlement with Geary County Schools.
“No school district should ever force teachers to willfully deceive parents or engage in any speech that violates their deeply held religious beliefs,” said Tyson Langhofer, director of the Center for Academic Freedom with Alliance Defending 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.”
CNN reports that Ricard had received written and verbal warnings for referring to transgender students by their birth names and pronouns.
“When we have a student that requests to go by a preferred name that is different than their given name, our district honors the request. Once you are aware of a preferred name, use that name for the student,” Fort Riley Middle School Principal Shannon Molt sent in an email to teachers.
While Ricard was not initially singled out for discipline, she eventually received a three-day suspension without pay in April of 2021.
School officials denied Ricard’s appeals to reverse or overturn the suspension.
“Any policy that requires Ms. Ricard to refer to a student by a gendered, non-binary, or plural pronoun (e.g., he/him, she/her, they/them, zhe/zher, etc.) or salutation (Mr., Miss, Ms.) or other gendered language that is different from the student’s biological sex actively violates Ms. Ricard’s religious beliefs,” Ricard’s lawsuit said.
CNN notes that LGBTQ advocates and mental health experts have repeatedly stressed that refusal to use transgender students’ pronouns exacerbates existing psychological problems and could increase their risk of depression and suicide.
“Transgender youth are more likely to consider suicide than their peers, and experience other mental health crises which are exacerbated when they face this kind of stigma and erasure in the classroom,” Melanie Willinham-Jaggers of GLSEN told CNN.