A federal court issued an early ruling May 9 that favors a Fort Riley Middle School teacher in a case relating to the Geary County School District’s controversial policy on preferred names and pronouns.

In the lawsuit case of math teacher Pamela Ricard v. USD 475 Geary County Schools, the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas granted a portion of a preliminary injunction Monday that while the case proceeds, Ricard may address students with their preferred name when communicating with the students’ parents.

The court denied the portion of the request that includes allowing Ricard to avoid using pronouns for students who request pronouns different than their biological sex because the district represented that Ricard may do so already without violating its policy on the matter.

“In denying preliminary injunctive relief regarding the Preferred Names and Pronouns Policy, the Court specifically relies on statements made by the District that Plaintiff’s current practice is not subject to discipline,” the preliminary injunction states.

After Ricard chose not to address students by their preferred pronouns during the spring semester in 2021, the school district reprimanded and suspended her and issued protocols, which state that staff must address students by their preferred names. When referring to students while speaking to parents, however, staff are directed use the students’ legal names and biological pronouns.

The subtitle of the protocol pages in the packet distributed by the school district is “Student Preferred Name and Pronouns Protocol,” but the directives underneath do not include the word “pronouns,” so it was unclear whether the protocol included addressing students by their preferred pronouns as well.

“(If) a student indicates a preferred name to a staff member, the staff member will comply with the request. … All staff with direct knowledge of the preferred name will be expected to use the student’s preferred name when addressing the student,” according to the protocols. “When contacting the parent or guardian of a transgender or gender nonconforming student, school personnel should use the student’s legal name and pronoun corresponding to the student’s gender assigned at birth unless the student, parent or guardian has specified otherwise.”

Attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom and Kriegshauser Ney Law Group are representing Ricard, who filed a lawsuit against the school district in March, stating that the policy prevents her from exercising her First Amendment rights, including freedom of religion.

“Pam has a distinguished teaching career and treats all her students with dignity and respect,” Tyson Langhofter, senior counsel and director of the Center for Academic Freedom of ADF, said. “We’re pleased the court has freed her to exercise her constitutionally protected freedom to teach and communicate honestly with parents while this case moves forward.”

Langhofter said Ricard’s proposal is that she and other staff members use preferred names but be allowed to avoid using pronouns inconsistent with students’ biological pronouns for students who object to being referred to by their biological pronouns. Additionally, she proposes that staff communicate honestly with parents by using the same name students are identified by in school while speaking to students’ parents.

Langhofter said for the preliminary injunction to be granted, the court had to find that there is a significant likelihood that Ricard will prevail in the case. He said the decision sets the tone for the case and makes it clear that the school district cannot hide important information from parents.

“Schools are supposed to partner with and support parents and not hide really important information from them,” he said. “All this does is basically reinforce this notion that one, parents have important rights and two, teachers cannot be punished for simply promoting to communicate honestly with their parents.”

Langhofer said gender dysphoria is a serious issue, and parents should be aware if their child is struggling with it so they can understand what their child is going through and how to support them.

“If a child is struggling with something that important, it’s obviously going to affect their academic success and every part of their lives, and hiding that information from parents is only going to harm them,” he said.

Langhofer said Alliance Defending Freedom is involved in similar cases across the country to assist teachers and parents in protecting religious freedom, free speech and parental rights. He said many school districts are currently grappling with how to best help children with dysphoria, and everyone must be able to weigh into the debate and not be punished for holding their opinion on the matter.

The lawsuit, filed by Joshua Ney, partner in Kriegshauser Ney Law Group, states the defendants have violated Ricard’s right to freedom of speech, right to free exercise of religion, right to be free from unconstitutional conditions, right to due process of law and right to equal protection of the law. Additionally, the lawsuit claims breach of contract.

Ricard requests the court enter judgement against the defendants, prohibit enforcement of policies that prevent Ricard from expressing her religious views and order purging punishment documentation from Ricard’s file. Additionally, she requests nominal damages, reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs and any further relief she may be entitled.

USD 475 Geary County Schools chose not to comment on the case.

The case is Ricard v. USD 475 Geary County Schools School Board in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas.

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