School district reinstates teacher fired for opposing LGBT kids book, pays $181K

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A Georgia school district will have to pay over $180,000 and reinstate a substitute teacher fired for objecting to a children's book depicting same-sex couples being read at an elementary school library. 

Bryan County Schools has agreed to pay $181,000 in attorney fees and damages and will restate Lindsey Barr as a substitute teacher. The Alliance Defending Freedom, a prominant conservative legal nonprofit representing Barr, announced the settlement on Monday. 

"Lindsey spoke out as a Christian, a mother, and a private citizen on an important issue —namely, the content and age-appropriateness of a picture book that the school planned to read to her kids and other elementary-aged children that conflicted with her family's values and faith," ADF Senior Counsel Philip A. Sechler said in a statement.

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"We commend the school district for finally doing the right thing and understanding that the First Amendment protects the right of Lindsey — and all public employees — to express their concerns about what schools are teaching children without the government cancelling them."

Last year, Barr became aware of a book titled All Are Welcome at McAllister Elementary School, which depicted multiple illustrations of same-sex couples.

When Barr contacted McAllister Principal Heather Tucker to express concern about the book being part of a school library read-aloud program last August, she was fired.

The ADF filed a lawsuit on Barr's behalf in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia last September. 

The suit named Tucker, Bryan County Schools Human Resources Director Debi McNeal, and Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Trey Robertson as defendants.

The complaint argued that Barr's termination violated her freedom of speech and freedom of religion and constituted viewpoint discrimination based on religious belief.

"Defendants' firing of Lindsey Barr was neither neutral nor generally applicable but was hostile and targeted directly at the content of her religious beliefs," stated the lawsuit.

"Under Defendants' policies and practices, Lindsey Barr is not allowed to serve as a substitute teacher because of her views on marriage, family, and the appropriateness of a public elementary school reading her young children a picture book with drawings of same-sex couples embracing, pregnant, and parenting."

As part of the settlement, Bryan County Schools Superintendent Paul Brooksher wrote a letter to Barr announcing her reinstatement. 

"Upon returning, we encourage you as a parent to raise concerns about material being taught to your children," Brooksher wrote. "Raising such concerns does not preclude employment in our district. For the future, we are focused on the value you add for children across the district as a substitute teacher. We sincerely regret that your separation from the school district caused any distress."

In April 2022, Georgia lawmakers passed a "Parents' Bill of Rights," which, among other things, allows parents to review school curriculum content and opt their child of sex education.

ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer stressed that firing teachers for engaging in speech protected by the First Amendment "sends a message to the teacher and others in the community that, if they criticize the school's approach to cultural or political issues or express viewpoints contrary to the school's preferred viewpoints, they will face consequences."

In 2021, a judge ordered the reinstatement of teacher Byron Tanner Cross in Loudoun County, Virginia, who was placed on leave for speaking out at a school board meeting against a proposed policy that has since been acted that requires teachers to use the preferred names and pronouns of trans-identified students. 

Judge James E. Plowman of the 20th Judicial Circuit of Virginia ruled that placing Cross on leave was "an unconstitutional action" and "adversely affected his constitutionally protected speech" because the teacher's words were "permissible" in the public forum. 

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