First Amendment

Federal judge blocks school from disciplining teacher if she outs transgender students to their parents

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Transgender teen with their parent

Image from Shutterstock.

A federal judge in Kansas City, Kansas, has temporarily blocked a school district from disciplining a teacher who had religious objections to a policy that prevented her from outing transgender students to their parents.

In a decision last week, U.S. District Judge Holly L. Teeter of the District of Kansas blocked the school district in Geary County, Kansas, from enforcing the policy against the plaintiff, Pamela Ricard, a math teacher at the Fort Riley Middle School.

The injunction, issued May 9, prevents enforcement through May 18 or the time when Ricard’s contract with the district ends, whichever is later.

The policy prevents teachers from referring to a student by the student’s preferred name and pronouns in communications with the student’s parents. Ricard told the court that she doesn’t intend to communicate with a parent for the sole purpose of disclosing such information. But she thinks that if she does contact parents about a student, the policy would require her to be dishonest in violation of her sincere religious beliefs.

Ricard has two transgender students in her class.

Teeter said Ricard had made a sufficient showing that the parental communications policy violates Ricard’s First Amendment right to free exercise of religion.

Teeter did not enjoin enforcement of a second school policy requiring teachers to refer to students by their preferred names and pronouns in class.

Ricard addresses the transgender students by their preferred first names. But she avoids using pronouns for the students to be consistent with her Christian beliefs that a rejection of their sex at birth is a “rejection of the image of God within that person.”

The school district attorney said Ricard’s practices in addressing students would not violate the school district policy. Because “the parties may have reached détente” on the issue, Teeter declined to enjoin it.

Ricard was previously suspended and disciplined for failing to use the preferred name of a transgender student. Teeter said she wasn’t making any ruling on the merits of Ricard’s challenge to that policy, and the claims “remain live” as she considers a request for a permanent injunction.

Ricard is represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, which has a press release on the decision here.

Hat tip to the Topeka Capital-Journal, which had a May 16 story on the decision.

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