Federal Judge: Geary Co. teacher may refrain from using pronouns, doesn’t need to keep it from parents

13 News at Six
Published: May. 16, 2022 at 4:53 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - A federal judge delivered a mixed ruling last week in a Geary County case over policies regarding trans students.

Fort Riley Middle School teacher Pamela Ricard sued USD 475 over policies requiring her to refer to students by their preferred pronouns and names, and restricting her from revealing those preferred titles to a student’s parents.

U.S. District Court Judge Holly Teeter did not grant an injunction for the first complaint, citing an argument from the district that Ricard refraining to use pronouns at all does not violate their policy. Ricard’s legal counsel said this is what she asked for in the first place.

In denying the injunction, Teeter further explained that, since the district was not citing Ricard for violating the policy, she is not likely to experience irreparable harm before the case itself is decided. Further, Teeter said, this decision does make any ruling on Ricard’s continued claims as to how the policy impacts her free speech, free exercise, and due process. Those questions continue to be litigated.

Teeter did grant a temporary injunction prohibiting the district from punishing Ricard if she discloses those pronouns with parents.

Ricard told the court she would not reach out to parents purely to “out” a student to their family. Ricard’s counsel insists the injunction protects her “when using a student’s preferred name and biological pronouns with parents,” though the court writes that the district is “enjoined from disciplining Plaintiff for referring to a student by the student’s preferred name and pronouns in her communications with the student’s parents...”

In challenging the parental communication policy, Ricard contends it violates her religious beliefs. She argues using one name and set of pronouns in school and another when communicating with parents is a form of dishonesty. The district countered that a teacher may simply use terms like “your child” or “your student,” but Ricard said it is unrealistic to expect she would never use a child’s name when talking to their parents about the child.

The Court agreed Ricard’s arguments had merit, and also noted the district admitted to instances of not punishing other teachers who inadvertently disclosed a preferred name or pronoun.

The injunction runs through the remainder of Ricard’s contract with the district, with was scheduled to happen May 18, 2022.

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