Story at a glance
- A former Kansas middle school teacher was reprimanded for refusing to use a student’s preferred name and pronouns.
- Pamela Ricard filed a lawsuit against the district claiming the policy violated her First Amendment rights.
- Fort Riley Middle School officials agreed to pay $95,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees to settle the case.
A former Kansas middle school teacher who was suspended for refusing to use the preferred name and pronouns of a student has been awarded $95,000 in a lawsuit settlement, her attorneys announced this week.
Pamela Ricard, a teacher who previously taught math at Fort Riley Middle School, was formally reprimanded and suspended for three days in April 2021 for using a student’s legal name instead of a preferred first name.
According to the lawsuit, a school counselor emailed Ricard saying the student preferred to be called by a first name different from the student’s enrolled name. Ricard was later told by a classmate the student’s preferred pronouns were “he/him.” According to the complaint, the student never directly asked Ricard to use preferred pronouns.
Ricard, who had been a teacher with Geary County School District since 2005, addressed the student as “Miss (legal/enrolled last name)” in an attempt to respect the student without compromising her own religious beliefs.
While neither the school nor the district had a formal policy on preferred names and pronouns at the time, Ricard was suspended and reprimanded under policies related to diversity and inclusion and the bullying of students by staff.
The district’s Board of Education months later approved a policy requiring staff to use students’ preferred names and pronouns and also denied Ricard’s request for a religious exception. The policy also required teachers to conceal a student’s name and pronouns preference by using only legal names when speaking with parents unless the student allowed them to do so. The district argued the policy was intended to prevent discrimination and harassment and promote inclusivity.
Ricard filed a federal lawsuit against the school district in March. The lawsuit claimed the district’s policy mandating Ricard to use language conflicting with the student’s biological sex, and to withhold a student’s name and pronoun preferences from parents violated her religious beliefs and First Amendment rights.
A U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas in May allowed Ricard’s lawsuit to move forward after finding “she was likely to prevail on her First Amendment free exercise of religion,” according to her attorneys. The court also granted a motion to stop enforcement of the policy. After the court’s ruling, the school board voted to revoke the policy.
Fort Riley Middle School officials agreed to pay $95,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees to settle the case.
“No school district should ever force teachers to willfully deceive parents or engage in any speech that violates their deeply held religious beliefs,” Tyson Langhofer, Ricard’s attorney and senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, said in a statement.
“We’re pleased to settle this case favorably on behalf of Pam, and we hope that it will encourage school districts across the country to support the constitutionally protected freedom of teachers to teach and communicate honestly with both children and parents,” Longhofer added.
The Geary County School District declined to comment.