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Calif. School District Pays Fired Christian Teacher $360,000 in Settlement

May 16, 2024

California’s Jurupa Unified School District (USD) Board on Monday approved a $360,000 settlement agreement for Jessica Tapia, a Christian teacher who was fired for refusing to use preferred pronouns or lie to parents about their child’s gender identity. “This is wonderful news,” Meg Kilgannon, senior fellow for Education Studies at Family Research Council, told The Washington Stand. “Schools behaving this way should find it is very expensive for them.”

“Today’s settlement serves as a reminder that religious freedom is protected, no matter your career,” proclaimed Julianne Fleischer, legal counsel for Advocates for Faith and Freedom, who represented Tapia. “Jessica’s story is one of faithful courage. She fought back to ensure her school district was held accountable and that no other teacher has to succumb to this type of discrimination.”

District spokeswoman Jacqueline Paul claimed the settlement “is not a win for Ms. Tapia” because Jurupa USD “has not admitted any fault or wrongdoing.” However, the settlement amounts to more than five times the median salary ($68,000) for a Jurupa USD teacher.

“The settlement certainly does not state or prove any illegal action or discrimination by the district,” Paul asserted. But Fleischer responded, “If the school district’s actions were legal, no teacher of faith would be qualified to serve as a public school teacher.”

Jurupa USD fired Tapia in January 2023 after she said her religious beliefs made her “unable to comply” with the district’s directives “to refrain from disclosing the gender identity of a student who is transgender to a parent who does not know the student’s gender identity” and “to address students by their preferred name and preferred gender pronouns.”

“It was crazy to be in the position where I realized that I couldn’t be a Christian and a teacher,” Tapia, a mother of three children, said. “I made sure to clarify, too, with [the] district personnel that were sitting across from me. I looked them in the eye, and I said, ‘Are you asking me to lie to parents?’ and they said, ‘Yes. It’s the law.’”

California law stipulates that “parents … have an absolute right to access to any and all pupil records related to their children.” In most cases, accessing student records requires parental consent. However, guidance from the California Department of Education (CDE) directs school districts:

“A transgender or gender nonconforming student may not express their gender identity openly in all contexts, including at home. Revealing a student’s gender identity or expression to others may compromise the student’s safety. Thus, preserving a student’s privacy is of the utmost importance. The right of transgender students to keep their transgender status private is grounded in California’s antidiscrimination laws as well as federal and state laws. Disclosing that a student is transgender without the student’s permission may violate California’s anti-discrimination law by increasing the student’s vulnerability to harassment and may violate the student’s right to privacy.” (Emphasis added)

“You believe that God created man and woman and that God creates every individual to be the person with the gender assigned in the womb and at birth,” Jurupa USD wrote to Tapia in a termination letter. “Based on your religious beliefs, you cannot be dishonest with parents. … The district cannot accommodate your religious beliefs that … prohibit you from maintaining a student’s gender identity and refraining from disclosing a student’s gender identity from his/her/their parent(s)/guardians.”

“The decision to settle this case was made in conjunction with the district’s self-insurance authority and in the best interest of the students,” Paul claimed, “such 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.” The settlement precludes Tapia from obtaining future employment with Jurupa USD, which allows the school district to continue hiding students’ gender transitions from parents without accommodating this Christian teacher’s scruples of conscience.

Tapia, however, has other ideas. She plans to join forces with Advocates for Faith and Freedom in launching “Teachers Don’t Lie, a resource that will be committed to giving a voice of truth to teachers,” she described. “I am confident that we are making progress to ensure that no teacher has their faith violated within schoolhouse gates again.”

“What happened to me can happen to anybody, and I want the next teacher to know that it is worth it to take a stand for what is right,” Tapia responded. “Across the country, we are seeing teachers’ freedom of speech and religious liberty violated through policies that require them to forsake their morals. I want teachers to be confident in the fact that the best thing we can do for students is educate in truth, not deception.”

“Teachers must be able to speak truth, especially to parents about their own children,” insisted Kilgannon. “I’m very grateful to this teacher for standing up and thankful for the settlement.”

Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.