In Oregon, educators propose alternative to gender identity policy—and face calls to be fired

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A Oregon public school teacher and an assistant principal are facing disciplinary action and possible firing, because of their alternative policy response to self-identified transgender students. 

The situation involves Rachel Damiano, an assistant principal at North Middle School in Grants Pass, and Katie Medart, a science teacher at the same school. Damiano and Medart presented a proposal to recognize students’ biological sex, parent’s rights, and respect for students. Their proposal allows teachers with reservations about new gender identity-related customs to continue teaching.

They were placed on paid leave from their positions in April, and officials hired a third-party investigator to respond to complaints that they violated district policies.

Grants Pass School District Superintendent Kirk Kolb has recommended that their employment be terminated. The school board will hold two meetings on July 15 to consider the recommendation, the ABC affiliate KDRV reports.

“The hearing and any board discussion will be regarding the alleged policy violations only,” said the school district, noting that the hearings will not discuss or debate the merits of their proposal.

Attorneys from the Pacific Justice Institute, who are representing Damiano and Medart, filed a federal lawsuit against Grants Pass School District in early June.

The lawsuit seeks judicial intervention to prevent “retaliation” against the two women for “expressing their viewpoints as private citizens on a matter of public concern,” and to prevent the enforcement of “unconstitutional” speech policies.

“This is an incredibly important case on multiple levels,” Ray D. Hacke, the Pacific Justice Institute’s Oregon-based staff attorney, said June 8. “The Supreme Court has made clear that educators don’t check their freedom of speech at the schoolhouse gate when they accept employment with public school districts – they have as much right to speak out against district policies they consider harmful as any other citizen. The school district erred egregiously here in punishing Rachel and Katie for daring to take the stand they did.”

In late March the two educators released a YouTube video commenting on gender identity guidelines that originated at the Oregon Department of Education, but which were implemented somewhat differently in various school districts. They did this as part of their effort called “I Resolve Movement.” 

On its website, this movement describes itself as “a grassroots movement intended to protect the hearts and minds of our youth and stand up for truth in our society.” It says it advocates for “reasonable, loving and tolerant solutions for education,” and for “resolutions that are reasonable and fair in both form and operation” and which can help “to safeguard the mental, emotional and physical well-being of all public-school students.”

In an early April statement, the district said it was aware of complaints that two staff members made postings on social media and “included references to their employment with the district,” the CBS affiliate KTVL News reported. The statement said the postings were not authorized by the district and are not official statements. It said it was investigating the matter and the individuals are not at work. The district said it is committed to “providing welcoming and safe learning environments for all students, including our LGBTQ students.”

For their part, Damiano and Medart’s attorneys have filed a lawsuit charging they are being held to a policy that arbitrarily decides which matters are controversial, and whether teachers may be disciplined for not making explicit that they spoke in a personal capacity.

Damiano and Medart’s proposed policy addresses some controversies related to self-identified transgender students and requests or demands to use the restrooms, names or pronouns of the opposite sex.

“We recognize that, excepting very rare scientifically-demonstrable medical conditions, there are two anatomical gender presentations, male and female,” said the proposal by I Resolve. They propose that public school restrooms and bathrooms should be designated for “anatomically female” and “anatomically male” instead of “girls” and “boys.” These rooms may “only be used by persons matching the anatomical designation of the spaces,” they proposed.

Anyone uncomfortable using their “anatomically correct space” may request a private bathroom or locker room, if available, under the proposal.

The proposal suggests that self-identified transgender students be allowed to go by a preferred pronoun or “a derivative of their legal name,” like “Jess” or “Jessie” for “Jessica,” and not a name of their choice. The students may be allowed to do this only with parental permission. Under this proposal, other students and staff are free to accept or ignore the request to use a different name or different pronouns.

The proposal also emphasizes public school staff members’ “civil and constitutional liberties, including their freedoms of speech and expression.”

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The lawsuit contends that the two educators sought input from school district officials - the superintendent and the principal. The principal read the proposal and provided feedback, while the superintendent said he would consider bringing it before the school board for a vote, the lawsuit stated.

After the video became public, the lawsuit alleges, the principal led the school district’s investigation of the educators and “subjected them to questioning on whether their religious beliefs make them unfit to be public educators.”

The lawsuit contends that the district’s first speech policy - requiring that employees who voice their views on “controversial issues” specify that their viewpoints are personal, and not an official view of the district - left employees “to guess whether their speech was on a ‘controversial issue’.” 

District officials “could declare after the fact the content and viewpoint of speech that would be deemed ‘controversial’ and thus subject to the policy’s disclaimer requirement,” the lawsuit said. It also objected to an amended speech policy, saying that the two plaintiffs have ceased much of their speaking on gender-identity issues that students, parents, educators and society are currently faced with.

In early June a county court in Virginia ordered that Loudoun County Public Schools reinstate elementary school teacher Tanner Cross, who had been suspended for opposing a school transgender pronoun policy in a public meeting - although his disciplinary case could continue.

Cross had criticized the proposed policies that, among other requirements, would require that students be addressed by their preferred gender pronouns, rather than the pronouns corresponding with their biological sex.

“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 is against my religion. It’s lying to a child. It’s abuse to a child,” he had said at the hearing, the Associated Press reports.

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The court ordered his reinstatement until a full trial is held. Cross has claimed that five school district employees wished to speak up on the pronoun issue but said they declined to do so, due to the district’s action against him.

The school district had claimed he had disrupted school operations, citing six emails from five families of students asking that their children not be taught by Cross. The school district said it planned to appeal to Virigina’s Supreme Court.

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