Two teachers in Oregon who proposed a policy to their district to address the complex issues when students struggle with gender identity have been placed on administrative leave by the district.
And they are suing for the retaliation they suffered when they expressed their opinions.
The case is being handled by the Pacific Justice Institute, which has filed the legal action against the Grants Pass School District.
The teachers, Rachel Damiano and Katie Medart, started a grassroots organization called “I Resolve” to address education policies on gender-identity disputes, and to offer solutions that would let teachers continue teaching without violating their consciences and honoring parental rights.
“This is an incredibly important case on multiple levels,” said Ray D. Hacke, the PJI lawyer based in Oregon.
“The Supreme Court has made clear that educators don’t check their freedom of speech at the schoolhouse gate when they accept employment with public school districts – they have as much right to speak out against district policies they consider harmful as any other citizen. The school district erred egregiously here in punishing Rachel and Katie for daring to take the stand they did.”
Damiano is an assistant principal at North Middle School in Grants Pass and Medart teaches science there, and they started the program to “promote a tolerant solution to gender identity education policy.”
They propose allowing staff and students to abide by their consciences and refrain from using preferred pronouns for students whose anatomic sex does not match the students’ pronoun of choice. Damiano and Medart also propose requiring parent involvement to change students’ pronouns.
Further, they proposed labeling restrooms and lockers “anatomically male” or “anatomically female” to correspond with students’ anatomic sex. Students also could request access to private restrooms or locker rooms.
They consulted with school officials in preparing their proposal and Kirk Kolb, the superintendent even indicated he’d bring it up to the board members, who are defendants along with him, Principal Thomas Blanchard and the district.
But when they promoted their ideas in a video that they created on their own, they were put on leave “pending an investigation.”
They were told that five other school workers had complained that their Christian beliefs were “anti-transgender” and therefore unacceptable.
The district’s decision to publicize the dispute led to threats against the two teachers. But Kolb failed to reveal that he had met with the women during the development of I Resolve, and provided feedback on a draft proposal.
The case seeks a court order returning the teachers to their jobs, a determination that such school censorship is illegal, and compensatory damages.
“Damiano and Medart are now facing termination of their employment for engaging in speech that the First Amendment protects,” the legal team explained.
“Educators, like everybody else, have ideas and opinions they should be free to express,” PJI President Brad Dacus said. “This expression is protected by our First Amendment. Advocating for solutions they believe in should stimulate conversation, not subject dedicated educators to disciplinary action.”
The complaint charges the school officials with “content- and viewpoint-based retaliation.”
Blanchard even “subjected them to questioning on whether their religious beliefs make them unfit to be public educators,” the complaint states.
Among the issues to be addressed is the “speech policy” of the district, which gives officials “unbridled discretion to regulate, suppress, and censor employee speech.”
But that, the lawsuit contends, violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments as well as the Oregon Constitution.
Their concerns developed as the Oregon Legislature moved toward an agenda of mandating multiple gender acknowledgments and requirements that little boys be addressed with feminine pronouns if they want.
The same issue recently was before a state judge in Virginia, who quickly ordered officials in the Loudoun County Public Schools to reinstate a teacher they had suspended for stating during an open comment period at a school board meeting his Christian beliefs that do not support transgenderism.
Judge James E. Plowman Jr. has ordered the school district to restore his status pending a full trial on the dispute.
“The court finds that the plaintiff’s speech and religious content are central to the determination made by the defendants to suspend plaintiff’s employment,” the judge wrote. “Defendants shall immediately reinstate the plaintiff to his position as it was prior to the issuance of this suspension and remove the ban that was placed upon him from all buildings and grounds of Loudoun County Public Schools.”
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