A Kansas public school teacher suspended for refusing to use a student's preferred name and pronoun will receive $95,000 in damages after a settlement with the school district.
Attorneys for Pamela Ricard called the settlement with Fort Riley Middle School officials a "victory for free speech at public schools."
Ricard challenged a Geary County school district policy that forced her to use a student's preferred name in class while using the student’s legal name when speaking to parents — actions that violated her religious beliefs.
"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, senior counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom.
"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.
"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."
Geary County Schools had no comment, The Kansas City Star reported.
Ricard received a three-day suspension in the spring of 2021 when she only would 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 a lawsuit filed in March, the Star reported.
Ricard's attorneys said the school district also forced the teacher to conceal the student's social transition to his parents.
The math teacher 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.
In order to be "respectful to the student without compromising" her own beliefs, she referred to the student as "Miss (last name)," the lawsuit stated, the Star said.
Ricard’s attorneys said that 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."
As part of the settlement in Ricard v. USD 475 Geary County Schools School Board Members, school officials 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.
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