Southern California district reaches settlement with teacher who rejected transgender policies

A Riverside County school district has agreed to pay $360,000 to settle a lawsuit from a former teacher who was fired last year after refusing to comply with policies regarding transgender or gender nonconforming students, citing her Christian beliefs.

Jessica Tapia, who taught physical education at Jurupa Valley High School, claimed in her wrongful termination lawsuit that her free speech and religious rights had been violated. She had refused – hypothetically, in statements to district staff – to use students' preferred pronouns, to allow them to wear clothing that matched their gender identity, or to “hide information” from parents about their gender identity. your child, according to federal law. lawsuit.

The Jurupa Unified School District did not admit any wrongdoing but agreed to pay Tapia $285,000, as well as $75,000 for his attorneys' fees, according to the agreement signed Tuesday. Tapia also agreed not to seek future employment with the district, and both sides agreed not to disparage each other or file future lawsuits.

Julianne Fleischer, one of Tapia's attorneys, called the settlement an “incredible victory.”

“Their religious beliefs were not taken into account when they could have been,” said Fleischer, legal counsel for Advocates for Faith & Freedom, a nonprofit religious liberties group based in Murrieta. “We think it sends a strong message that there is a price to pay when a teacher is asked to lie and hide information.”

Jacquie Paul, spokeswoman for Jurupa Unified, said the settlement was a “compromise of a disputed claim.”

“The decision to resolve this case was made … in the best interest of the students, so that the district can continue to dedicate all of its resources and efforts to educate and support its student population regardless of their protected class,” Paul said . in a sentence.

The case is just one of several lawsuits questioning how the rights of transgender students, their parents and teachers should be balanced, disputes that have formed the backbone of California's educational culture wars.

Under California anti-discrimination laws, federal and state laws, the identity of a transgender or gender non-conforming student should not be shared, including with his or her parents, without the student's permission, according to the California Department of Education.

But in Tapia's case, her lawyers argued that there was never a case in which she failed to comply with school and state policies, because that never arose during her tenure.

Instead, his dismissal was due to several of his social media posts, which students found offensive and denounced for their content about transgender people and religion. When school officials asked her to curb her social media activity and agree to follow certain district policies regarding the privacy and rights of transgender students, she refused, citing her Christian beliefs.

Tapia requested a religious accommodation, saying the district's policies went against his beliefs “regarding human sexuality and lying,” according to his lawsuit.

Fleischer said her organization respects the transgender community, but this case affirms that “religious rights are not second class.”

Paul said the district “will continue to follow all local, state and federal laws, including anti-harassment and anti-discrimination laws to protect its students and employees.”

Tapia was hired by the district in 2014, first as a substitute and then full-time, and taught physical education at both the middle school and high school. He was fired in January 2023, according to the lawsuit.

Tapia publicly supported a bill last year that would have required teachers to disclose to parents whether their child was transgender or gender nonconforming. That bill has since died in committee.

Now she is helping to lead Advocates for Faith & Freedom's new campaign called “Teachers Don't Lie,” to support other educators who feel their faith is being compromised by school policies.

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