Last edited: January 01, 2005

Utah Supreme Court to Hear Case Against Lesbian Teacher

Associated Press, March 14, 2002

Rich Vosepka, Associated Press Writer

SALT LAKE CITY (AP)—A high school teacher is defending herself against a claim that discussing her sexual orientation in front of students is prohibited, just as encouraging them to use drugs would be.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed court papers with the Utah Supreme Court on Thursday in support of Wendy Weaver, a longtime psychology teacher at Spanish Fork High School who is a lesbian.

She has been sued by a group of parents and students who argue that state law requires her to keep quiet about homosexuality in class.

"In our view, the case amounts to nothing more than continuing harassment against a teacher who asserted her First Amendment" rights, said Richard Van Wagoner, a Salt Lake City lawyer who is assisting the ACLU with Weaver’s case.

Fourth District Judge Ray Harding dismissed the case against Weaver in 1999. But her detractors appealed to the state Supreme Court last year.

They say the judge made a mistake.

"There are mandatory standards that say teachers are to model morality," attorney Matthew Hilton said. Teachers are prohibited from supporting criminal conduct by students—and sodomy is against the law in Utah, he said.

Just as a teacher couldn’t encourage students to smoke marijuana or drive drunk, Weaver shouldn’t be allowed to have gay issues "become intertwined with the teaching experience," Hilton said.

Weaver won a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Nebo School District in 1998 after the school required her to sign an agreement that barred her from discussing her sexual orientation—in or out of the classroom.

That case drew national attention. Weaver has continued to teach at the school, which is about 45 miles south of Salt Lake City.

The latest case in state court was brought by a group of parents and students who want her out of the classroom.

Another legal question for the Supreme Court to decide will be whether those people have any legal standing to sue an individual teacher.

Hilton argues that the Legislature has made it clear that they do.

The ACLU claims that decisions about who’s fit to teach should be made by the state school board and licensing officials. Those groups have refused to take any action against Weaver, said Stephen Clark, legal director for the ACLU of Utah.

A series of procedural issues have delayed the case before the Supreme Court during the past year, but both sides now say they expect to present oral arguments later this year.

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