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Kansas teacher who was suspended after she refused to use student’s preferred pronouns awarded $95,000 in suit

A Kansas teacher who sued the school district that suspended her for refusing to use a student’s preferred pronouns reached a settlement with the district Wednesday and will be awarded $95,000, her lawyers said.

Attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom, which describes itself as advocating “for the right of people to freely live out their faith,” called the settlement “a victory for free speech at public schools.” The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the Alliance Defending Freedom as a “hate group” over stances it has taken on LGBTQ rights.

Pamela Ricard sued Geary County Schools in March, saying she was reprimanded and suspended for three days last year “for addressing a biologically female student by the student’s legal and enrolled last name.”

A school counselor at Fort Riley Middle School had told Ricard that the student preferred an alternative first name, and a classmate told Ricard that the student preferred he/him pronouns, the lawsuit said.

Ricard began addressing the student as “miss,” using the student’s last name, to avoid using the student’s preferred first name. Ricard believed addressing the student as “Miss (legal/enrolled last name)” respected the student while also upholding Ricard’s religious convictions, the lawsuit said.

The district at the time did not have a “formal policy regarding student preferred name and pronoun use at the time Ms. Ricard was suspended,” but she was reprimanded “under generic school district policies related to bullying by staff,” the suit said.

A week after Ricard returned from her suspension, the district implemented a policy that “employees should be aware and make an effort to utilize the pronouns an individual requests to be identified by.”

The district also told staff members that they should not disclose students’ preferred names and pronouns to their parents unless the students give permission.

Ricard’s lawyers said Wednesday that the policies “violated her conscience.”

“Ms. Ricard is a Christian and holds sincere religious beliefs consistent with the traditional Christian and biblical understanding of the human person and biological sex,” the lawsuit said. “Ms. Ricard believes that God created human beings as either male or female, that this sex is fixed in each person from the moment of conception, and that it cannot be changed, regardless of an individual person’s feelings, desires, or preferences.”

In May, a federal court 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,” her attorneys said.

The court also ruled that, instead of using students’ preferred pronouns, Ricard could continue “avoiding pronouns for students who have requested pronouns inconsistent with their biological sex.” The court instructed the district to stop the policy in which staff members could not disclose students’ preferred names and pronouns to their parents as the lawsuit proceeded.

The lawsuit was dismissed Wednesday, court documents show. A Geary County Schools official said Thursday that the district had no comment on the settlement. It is unclear where its current policies on preferred names and pronouns stand.

Ricard retired in May and “was in good standing without any disciplinary actions against her,” according to the settlement.

By Elisha Fieldstadt

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