Last edited: January 25, 2005

Lesbian Teacher Wins Utah Court Ruling

Washington Post, April 3, 2004

By Kersten Swinyard

SALT LAKE CITY—The Utah Supreme Court on Friday left it up to education officials whether to fire a lesbian high school teacher.

The ruling was a victory for psychology teacher Wendy Weaver, who came under attack from parents and students at Spanish Fork High School in a heavily Mormon part of Utah.

Teachers are required by law to be moral models for their students. A lawsuit accused Weaver of failing to be a good role model because her lifestyle conflicted with state laws prohibiting sodomy.

Weaver, who now uses her unmarried name Wendy Chandler, said the court’s decision was a relief.

“What they were going after was not really within their right as citizens to do,” Weaver said of her critics. “I also believe that they’re scared to have their kids see someone who is gay but who functions and is happy and they like. That doesn’t go with their perception that gay people are evil or unhealthy.”

Weaver, a 1979 Brigham Young University graduate, continues to teach at the school because her ex-husband, children and partner’s children live nearby.

She disclosed her sexuality when asked by curious students in 1997. Shortly thereafter, the high school barred her from talking about her sexuality, and Weaver later won a federal lawsuit against the Nebo School District for that requirement.

Parents and students tried to remove Weaver by complaining to the local school board, but the district did not fire the award-winning, 20-year teacher.

They then pursued the case in the state’s 4th District Court, but Judge Ray Harding Jr. dismissed the lawsuit in 1999. Those seeking to oust Weaver then sought a declaration from the state Supreme Court saying she was unfit to teach. The declaration would have forced the school board to dismiss Weaver, attorney Matthew Hilton told the Supreme Court in October.

The court declined, saying Weaver’s opponents “lack a legally protectible interest in this controversy.”

Disciplinary action and complaints must be handled by the Professional Practices Advisory Commission, the disciplinary arm of the state board of education, the court ruled.

Any complaints against teachers “must be taken before the only bodies authorized to act in this regard: the local school district, the Commission, or the State Board of Education,” the court said.

Hilton was disappointed with the ruling, but he is seeking clarification from state education officials about the requirement that teachers be good role models.

“At least we’re entitled to have the state office to tell us if we’re right or wrong,” Hilton said.

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