Gay Schoolteacher Cheers Court Ruling
Citizens group vows to continue its fight to have her
News (Mormon owned), April 5, 2003
Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84110
By Lisa Riley Roche, Deseret News staff writer
The battle over whether Spanish Fork High School teacher
Wendy Chandler should be ousted because of her sexual orientation may not be
over yet despite a Utah Supreme Court ruling in her favor.
Friday, justices upheld the 4th District Court’s
decision to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Citizens of the Nebo School District
for Moral and Legal Values that sought to have her teaching credentials
In a 15-page opinion, the Supreme Court found that “the
students, former students and parents of students before us on appeal lack a
legally protectable interest in this controversy.”
It’s up to the education system to deal with teacher
violations, the court found. “This court does not have the authority to fire
(Chandler) or order the school board to do so; nor may we force the State
Board of Education to take any action at this point,” the opinion stated.
Chandler, who no longer uses her ex-husband’s last name
of Weaver, said Friday she was excited to hear the news.
“It’s about time,” Chandler said, predicting the
decision “will definitely be the end” of the group’s five-year effort to
oust her. “They’re just getting slammed down every time they raise their
head. That’s been the only group that’s really been vindictive.”
The group is not ready to give up yet, however. The
group’s attorney, Matthew Hilton, said in a statement Friday that he has
asked the State Office of Education again to review Chandler’s professional
That includes whether teachers are required to be role
models for their students while not promoting or denigrating religion,
supporting or encouraging criminal conduct, or administering psychiatric tests
to students without parental permission.
“We look forward to clarification of these important
issues,” Hilton said. He said the parents had already filed a request for a
review of Chandler with the State Office of Education before they sued. The
request was put on hold pending the outcome of the case.
The state’s Professional Practices Advisory Commission
would make the ultimate decision.
“There’s a lot yet to be decided,” state director
of school law and legislation Carol Lear said. “My job right now is to take
that to the commission and say, ‘What do you want me to do?’”
The State Office of Education cheered Friday’s ruling
as upholding its duties to oversee teacher licensing and investigations into
“I think it confirms our responsibility as the State
Board of Education and Professional Practices Advisory Commission to
investigate cases and take appropriate action,” Lear said. “It really
affirms the appropriate order of things.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented
Chandler, also applauded the decision.
“In this case, the Utah Supreme Court concluded that
the courts couldn’t properly address and resolve what is essentially an
ideological and cultural debate,” ACLU attorney Stephen Clark said.
Clark said what was at stake was whether the plaintiffs
and other people opposed to homosexuality should be able to use the heavy hand
of the law to punish what they see as a moral and spiritual failure.
Chandler, a psychology teacher for 23 years, was
threatened with dismissal and lost her volleyball coaching assignment after
school administrators learned in 1997 that she is a lesbian. In 1998, she won
a federal civil rights lawsuit against the school district.
She said the citizens’ group does not represent the
views of most people. “I think this group, the Nebo citizens, presents a
much bigger picture than they really are. I have a lot of support in the
community and a lot of people think it’s been very unjust.”
Her fight against the lawsuit has “been well worth
it,” Chandler said, calling the court’s decision “a good ruling not just
for gay or lesbian people, but for any person who’s a little
controversial” or who doesn’t “fit the mold in a particular area.”
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