Public school employees, just like all Americans, have the right to speak freely about their beliefs. They do not surrender this right simply because they choose to work in public education.
But when an Indiana school district instituted a new policy that cut parents out of important decisions about their children’s education and well-being, it blatantly ignored this right. By instituting this policy quietly and without notifying parents, the school district prevented community members from engaging in any debate about the policy. And when one school counselor responded honestly to a journalist’s questions about the policy, the district fired her.
Read on to learn more about her story.
Who is Kathy McCord?
Kathy McCord has served students in Indiana for nearly 40 years as both a school counselor and teacher. She was hired by the South Madison Community School Corporation as a school counselor at Pendleton Heights High School beginning in the 1998-99 school year. In this position, she helped students select classes, prepare for college, and manage their day-to-day journey through high school.
Kathy has long served Pendleton Heights High School students and built relationships with them and their families. She has become known for loving both students and colleagues, creating many student programs, and organizing parties and gatherings for fellow staff members. But despite all this, South Madison fired Kathy after she answered questions from a reporter about a school policy.
In September 2021, Kathy, her fellow high school counselors, and some administrators were required to attend a training about gender and sexuality. They were informed that South Madison had adopted a new policy that required employees to use a document called a “Gender Support Plan” to facilitate students identifying as a gender that was inconsistent with their sex.
The employees were told they must use cross-gender names and pronouns—a key step in the controversial practice of so-called “social transition”—when indicated on a student’s “Gender Support Plan.” And they were instructed to use those names and pronouns without parental notification or consent. In some cases, they were even instructed to hide name and pronoun changes from parents.
The training also claimed that a person becomes “transgender” “when they say so” and that it could be considered “discrimination” if employees declined to socially transition students or expressed “any religious objection or personal beliefs about transgender students.”
Kathy believes that socially transitioning students without notifying their parents or receiving consent from them is wrong, and she objected to the requirement that she deceive parents about their child’s name and pronoun use. While she raised these concerns with supervisors, they told her that she must set her beliefs aside and comply with the “Gender Support Plan” policy if she wanted to keep her job.
South Madison instituted its “Gender Support Plan” policy without informing the public, but someone in the community learned about the policy and informed a local journalist. The journalist launched his own investigation, and he eventually asked to interview Kathy for his story to confirm information he had already gathered from other sources.
Kathy reluctantly agreed to an interview in her capacity as a private citizen. During the interview, she confirmed that information already gathered by the journalist was correct. He asked her to verify that the school district was keeping parents in the dark, and she felt compelled to answer honestly.
A few days later, the journalist published his first article about the policy, and it was critical of the school district and the “Gender Support Plan.” He went on to publish other articles that were also critical of the district.
And he wasn’t the only one. Three days after the article was published, the school board held a meeting that gave the public its first opportunity to respond to the “Gender Support Plan” policy. The response was overwhelming, with many parents and other members of the community voicing their opposition to the policy.
After the first article was published, Kathy was called into a series of meetings with school officials over the next few weeks that culminated in her firing. The school board ultimately voted to fire Kathy simply because she chose to be honest with a journalist.
What’s at stake?
All Americans have a right to express their beliefs, and public schools can’t punish employees for doing so. Kathy objected to the “Gender Support Plan” policy because she knows it is wrong to deceive parents about their children’s education and well-being, but her concerns were dismissed by her supervisors. To make matters worse, she was fired for confirming facts about the policy.
Educators can’t be forced to violate their beliefs as a condition of employment, and they can’t be made to deceive parents about their children. A win for Kathy would ensure unconstitutional policies like South Madison’s cannot stand.
- September 2021: Kathy was required to attend a training where she was told about a new school policy requiring her to use cross-gender names and pronouns and, in some cases, hide this from parents.
- December 2022: A journalist asked to meet with Kathy after he learned about the policy. Kathy confirmed details he had already obtained.
- March 2023: After a series of meetings, South Madison’s school board voted to fire Kathy for speaking to the journalist.
- May 2023: ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit on Kathy’s behalf.
The bottom line
Public employees can’t be forced to contradict their core beliefs just to keep a job.