FORT RILEY, Kan. (WTVO) — A Kansas teacher, who was suspended for refusing to use a student’s preferred pronouns was awarded a $95,000 settlement after suing the school.
According to the attorney representing teacher Pamela Ricard, a math teacher at Fort Riley Middle School, she challenged a school district policy that required her to use a student’s “preferred name” to address the student in class but using the student’s legal name when speaking to parents.
According to the lawsuit, Ricard claimed using alternative names for transgender and non-binary students violated her conscience.
She sued the school in March after she was suspended for “addressing a biologically female student by the student’s legal and enrolled last name.”
According to NBC News, Ricard addressed the student as “miss,” using the student’s last name, in order to avoid using the student’s preferred first name.
The lawsuit argued that Ricard believed that addressing the student as “Miss (legal name) respected the student while upholding Ricard’s religious convictions.”
Reports say the school district told teachers that they should not tell parents of a student’s preferred names and pronouns unless the student gave them permission.
“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,” principal Shannon Molt said in an email to staff, as reported by CNN.
In April 2021, Ricard was given a three-day suspension for violating district policies on bullying, diversity, and inclusion. The school also denied her multiple appeals.
In May, a federal judge ruled that Ricard was “free to speak without violating her conscience by communicating with parents in a manner consistent with how she is required to address the students at school.”
Joshua Ney, a partner at Kriegshauser Ney Law Group, who represented Ricard, said in a statement, “The Geary County School District unsuccessfully tried to convince a federal court that a teacher should completely avoid using a child’s name during a parent-teacher conference in order to hide new names and genders being used by the school for a child in a classroom. 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.”
The court also ruled that she could continue “avoiding pronouns for students who have requested pronouns inconsistent with their biological sex.”
According to WIBW, the school board subsequently voted to stop the policy of not disclosing a student’s chosen pronouns with their parents.
Ricard retired in May 2022.