Kansas teacher sues school officials for forcing her to use trans pronouns

A sign outside a classroom taken in 2016.
A sign outside a classroom taken in 2016. | REUTERS/Tami Chappell

A middle school teacher in Kansas has filed a lawsuit against her school district after being suspended for refusing to use a trans-identified student’s preferred name and pronouns because doing so would violate her religious beliefs.

Pamela Ricard, a math teacher at Fort Riley Middle School, filed a suit last week against school officials in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas.

Defendants named in the lawsuit include the USD 475 Geary County School District Board Members, Superintendent Reginald Eggleston and Fort Riley Principal Kathleen Brennan.

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According to the lawsuit, Ricard was suspended in April 2021 for three days and given a written reprimand because she called a biologically female student by her legal name and used female pronouns.

“Neither the District nor the school had a formal policy regarding student preferred name and pronoun use at the time Ms. Ricard was suspended and reprimanded,” stated the lawsuit. 

“Instead, Ms. Ricard was suspended and reprimanded under generic school district policies related to Bullying by Staff; Diversity and Inclusion; and Staff-Student Relations prohibiting ‘harassment’ and ‘bullying’ of students by staff.”

The lawsuit further states that Ricard is a Christian who “holds sincere religious beliefs consistent with the traditional Christian and biblical understanding of the human person and biological sex.”

“Any policy that requires Ms. Ricard to refer to a student by a gendered, non-binary, or plural pronoun (e.g., he/him, she/her, they/them, zhe/zher, etc.) or salutation (Mr., Miss, Ms.) or other gendered language that is different from the student’s biological sex actively violates Ms. Ricard’s religious beliefs,” continued the lawsuit.

The complaint noted that the school board denied Ricard’s request for a “specific accommodation and policy that would allow her to continue to address students by their names but refrain from using preferred pronouns or other gender-specific language, for a student when such pronouns or language were different than the student’s biological sex.”

Additionally, the board adopted a new policy requiring teachers to “refer to each student —both in and out of class — using whatever names or pronouns the student claims reflect his or her particular gender identity on any given day.”

“The District and the Defendants now threaten to punish Ms. Ricard again if she continues to refrain from using a student’s preferred pronouns, express her views through silence or neutral language, or even engage in a neutral policy of referring to students by their enrolled last names or with other gender-neutral language,” the legal document added.

Will Rapp of the Kansas chapter of the LGBT advocacy group GLSEN told CNN that he considers Ricard’s actions to be harmful to trans-identified youth.

“This incident isn’t an isolated issue. According to GLSEN research, more than 40% of transgender students in Kansas report being unable to use their chosen name and correct pronouns in school,” Rapp said.

“When educators express this kind of anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment it sends a message that school is not a safe place and many LGBTQ+ youth and especially transgender youth feel unable to approach trusted educators for support.”

Rapp argues that educators “must be held accountable for creating a safe and affirming environment for all students, regardless of gender identity.”

In recent years, there has been considerable debate over the extent to which schools can require teachers and other employees to use students’ preferred names and pronouns.

Last year, Loudoun County Public Schools in northern Virginia garnered national headlines when the Washington, D.C.-area school district suspended elementary school teacher Byron “Tanner” Cross for speaking out against a proposed policy requiring teachers to use trans-identified students’ preferred names and pronouns.

Like Ricard, Cross maintained that his sincerely held religious beliefs, informed by his Christian faith, prevented him from complying with such a policy, which has since passed.  

“I’m a teacher, but I serve God first, and I will not affirm that a biological boy can be a girl and vice versa because it’s against my religion,” Cross told the school board. “It’s lying to a child, it’s abuse to a child, and it’s sinning against our God.”

Cross sued the school district over his suspension, and last August, the Virginia Supreme Court upheld an injunction that reinstated the teacher as the litigation continued.

Another Virginia teacher was placed on leave in 2018 and later fired for his refusal to refer to a trans-identified student by the preferred name and pronouns. Last year, the teacher, Peter Vlaming, appealed his case to the Virginia Supreme Court. 

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