Lesbian Teacher Wins Utah Court Ruling
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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