Last edited: January 25, 2005

Gay Schoolteacher Cheers Court Ruling

Citizens group vows to continue its fight to have her ousted

Deseret News (Mormon owned), April 5, 2003
Box 1257, Salt Lake City, UT 84110
Fax: 801-237-2121

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 revoked.

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 conduct.

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 wrongdoing.

“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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