Can three letters cost you your job? They can if they're "s-h-e." That's the unbelievable drama playing out for the latest time in Kansas's Fort Riley Middle School. When math teacher Pamela Ricard refused to use a boy's name for a female student, the Geary County School District gave her a choice: embrace the lie or lose your job.
It's a problem plaguing teachers across the country -- the Nicolas Meriwethers, the Tanner Crosses, the Peter Vlamings, and now, 17-year classroom veteran Pamela Ricard. Where, exactly, is the line between a student's decision to live out a transgender fantasy and a teacher's moral right to reject it? "I love all my students," Ricard insists, "but I shouldn't be forced to contradict my core beliefs in order to teach math in a public school." As a Christian, she believes what the Bible says: that God assigns gender at birth, and any policy that forces her to use names or language contrary to that is a violation of that religious conviction.
What's especially interesting about this case is that the student never came to Ricard to tell her about her preferences -- nor did the school have a policy ordering staff to honor them. This only came up because Ricard called her "miss" to get the girl's attention in class -- only to have another student email her and say that the girl now used "he/him" pronouns and a different first name. In an effort to walk that fine line, Ricard decided to call the girl by her legal last name, which infuriated the student who had emailed her. In a note left on Ricard's desk, the classmate accused her of being "transphobic." "My pronouns are he/they btw," the message ended.
Later, after the students brought the complaint to administrators, Ricard was suspended for "bullying" and ignoring the general handbook on "diversity, inclusion, and staff-student relations." A week later, the Fort Riley principal sent the faculty "new training and protocol materials" that ordered them to indulge whatever identity students concocted. Shocked, Ricard asked for a religious exemption. Three times her request was denied.
Now, faced with losing her job, Ricard is suing for the free speech the Constitution already gave her. "I continue to enjoy teaching my students day in and day out," she told CNN, "but the stigma of being officially labeled a 'bully' simply for using a student's enrolled last name has been disheartening." Her attorney, Josh Ney, partner at Kriegshauser Ney Law Group, insists that this isn't just about religious freedom or free speech but due process and equal protection as well. "This case really has to do with forcing teachers to be accomplices in promoting novel theories about gender identity that are based on advocates, political motives, and unfounded science."
At the end of the day, Ney argued on "Washington Watch," "This is not a free speech case about what Pam wants to say. It's a compelled speech case about what the government can force Pam to say in the classroom. She's a math teacher -- and she wants to teach math. But unfortunately, the school's actions in this case have made her an unwilling accomplice in a new speech code at the school."
Making this whole debate even more infuriating is the fact that Ricard's student didn't legally change her name -- and her parents never knew about their daughter's new identity. It's something the eighth grader decided on her own, and now every teacher is required to disregard reality and play along.
"Where does this stop?" Ney wanted to know. "This is a policy based on middle schoolers' [and] high schoolers' preferences. And these preferences are not preferences that are formally codified in the schools' enrollment records. At the end of the day, [Ricard] was disciplined for her choice to use the last name of the student, a question that was contained in the enrollment records of the school. But the school said that was a violation."
The longtime teacher even offered a compromise -- a neutral policy that would satisfy her rights and respect the students' wishes. "We think we came up with a pretty good [idea for] the school board, and they rejected it summarily," Ney explained. "Ms. Ricard is trying to teach math, she's trying to get through the day and, ultimately, that's not good enough for the school. And so the fact that the neutral policy was rejected by the school board, I think shows that we've got far more work to do in explaining how the First Amendment and other constitutional principles inform school policy."
Obviously, this school board -- like so many others -- isn't interested in accommodating everyone's interests or finding a workable solution. They're interested in pushing a radical agenda, no matter how many lives and careers it ruins. It's no wonder there's such been such an education uprising across the country. If these extremists continue to disrespect parents' and teachers' beliefs, they won't just find themselves on the wrong side of local elections -- they'll find themselves on the wrong side of the law.