Two educators in Grants Pass were terminated by the school board Thursday. The board found North Middle School Assistant Principal Rachel Damiano and science teacher Katie Medart used district time and resources to promote their campaign to challenge school policies on gender identity.
Both Medart and Damiano are outspoken opponents of policies meant to accommodate transgender students in Oregon schools. Last spring, they launched an online campaign called I Resolve. I Resolve calls for a rollback of those policies. For instance, they say teachers should not be required to call students by their preferred pronouns or name. They also want to change signs on restrooms and locker rooms to say “anatomical male” and “anatomical female.”
After receiving complaints, the district placed both on leave and began an investigation. The board met Thursday to consider the recommendation of Superintendent of Schools Kirk Kolb that Medart and Damiano be fired for violations of district policy.
At the hearing Thursday before the Grants Pass school board, Medart’s attorney, Ralph Wiser, said the district is infringing upon her first amendment rights.
“Your superintendent has proven that this school district is not a nursery of democracy and is asking you to join in his condemnation of free speech by dismissing Ms. Medart,” Wiser said.
But Nancy Hungerford, the school district’s attorney, says free speech is not the issue.
“The policy says that they have the right to choose either side of a particular issue and support their viewpoints as they desire, by vote, discussion or persuasion of others,” Hungerford said. “But, such discussion and persuasion will not be carried on during the performance of district duties.”
Medart, in particular, was accused of creating a disruption in the school district. In a video posted online, she talks about a student who had come to her with gender identity questions. Although she doesn’t mention the student by name, many in the district recognized who she was talking about.
During the hearing, Cliff Kuhlman, who has served on the board since 1986, seemed confused about the deliberations at times. At one point, he asked if he could abstain from voting on the motion to terminate Medart’s employment. When it was explained to him that he couldn’t abstain, he said, “I don’t want to break a tie. Do I have to break a tie?”
The school board ended up voting 4-3 — with Kuhlman voting with the majority — to terminate both Medart and Damiano.
The educators are already pursuing a lawsuit against Grants Pass School District 7 for their suspension last April. This latest move by the district is likely to lead to further legal action.