Ex-teacher Settles With California School District Over Claim She Was Fired for Religious Beliefs

Ex-teacher Settles With California School District Over Claim She Was Fired for Religious Beliefs

A person reads a transgender children's book in Irvine, Calif., on Aug. 30, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Jana J. Pruet
Jana J. Pruet

5/15/2024

Updated: 5/21/2024

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A former public school teacher who claims she was fired last year for her religious beliefs has reached a $360,000 settlement with the district.
On Monday night, the Jurupa Unified School District Board in Riverside, California, approved a settlement agreement between Jessica Tapia and the district to resolve a lawsuit filed by Advocates for Faith and Freedom on Ms. Tapia’s behalf in May 2023.
“Today’s settlement serves as a reminder that religious freedom is protected, no matter your career,” said Julianne Fleischer, legal counsel for Advocates for Faith and Freedom, in a statement. “If the school district’s actions were legal, no teacher of faith would be qualified to serve as a public school teacher. Jessica’s story is one of faithful courage. She fought back to ensure her school district was held accountable and that no other teacher has to succumb to this type of discrimination.”
The lawsuit accused Jurupa Unified School District of wrongful termination after Ms. Tapia refused to violate her religious beliefs, which prevented her from complying with district policies, including calling a student by a pronoun that did not match their biological sex and withholding information from parents regarding their child’s so-called gender identity.
The complaint also states that the former high school physical education teacher was deprived of her rights to exercise freedom of speech and freedom of religion as protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. It also accused the district of violating California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Before her firing, Ms. Tapia had been involved with the school district for about 20 years as a student, teacher, and coach, according to court documents.

‘What Happened to Me Can Happen to Anybody’

In September 2022, she received a “Notice of Unprofessional Conduct” from the district, issuing 12 acts of misconduct against her.
“Among the allegations, the District accused her of posting offensive content on her public Instagram account, referencing her faith during conversations with students and expressing controversial opinions on issues pertaining to gender identity,” according to the complaint.
Following the district’s notice, Ms. Tapia received “A Plan of Assistance and Directives” to follow in order to maintain her employment with the district.
“The directives required Ms. Tapia to lie to parents about their gender identity, refer to students by their preferred pronouns, refrain from expressing her religious beliefs with students or on her own social media, and allow students to use the bathroom or locker room that matched their preferred sex,” the document continues.
Her lawyers said she was unable to comply with the directives due to her closely held religious beliefs, so she requested an accommodation, which resulted in her termination.
“What happened to me can happen to anybody, and I want the next teacher to know that it is worth it to take a stand for what is right,” Ms. Tapia said in a statement. “Across the country, we are seeing teachers’ freedom of speech and religious liberty violated through policies that require them to forsake their morals. I want teachers to be confident in the fact that the best thing we can do for students is educate in truth, not deception.”
Ms. Tapia also said she has joined forces with Advocates for Faith and Freedom to launch “Teachers Don’t Lie,” a campaign designed to support teachers of faith. The campaign is designed to be a resource to help educators understand their constitutional rights and how to respond when they are asked to deny their religious beliefs.
“I am confident that we are making progress to ensure that no teacher has their faith violated within schoolhouse gates again,” Ms. Tapia said of the campaign.
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Jana J. Pruet is an award-winning investigative journalist. She covers news in Texas with a focus on politics, energy, and crime. She has reported for many media outlets over the years, including Reuters, The Dallas Morning News, and TheBlaze, among others. She has a journalism degree from Southern Methodist University. Send your story ideas to: jana.pruet@epochtimes.us

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