Oregon School District Fired Educators for Speaking Out
Thanks to the First Amendment, all Americans have the right to peacefully advocate for change. One effective method of creating change is by garnering support from the ground up, often called a “grassroots movement.”
Two Oregon educators employed this strategy after they saw federal, state, and local governments pushing policies that they believe harm children. But they never expected that they would be terminated from their jobs simply for exercising their rights. Read on to learn more about their case.
Who are Katie Medart and Rachel Sager?
Katie Medart was a teacher at North Middle School in Grants Pass, Oregon, and Rachel Sager (formerly Rachel Damiano) served as an assistant principal at the same school. Katie and Rachel both love working with students, and they want to provide them with the best education and care possible.
These educators have seen elected officials at the federal, state, and local levels push legislation and policies coercing educators to adopt radical gender ideology. Katie and Rachel strongly believe this ideology harms children, and they wanted to share those concerns and propose better policies in hopes of making a change.
Damiano v. Grants Pass School District 7
Katie and Rachel believe that their state government’s suggested gender identity policies put children in harm’s way. For example, proposed policies that would force girls to share bathrooms with boys and vice versa at school violate students’ privacy and threaten their safety. In addition, Katie and Rachel believe that forcing teachers to use pronouns that are inconsistent with a student’s sex violates teachers’ rights and encourages children to ignore reality.
To address their concerns, Katie and Rachel started a grassroots movement called “I Resolve” to speak out on issues of gender identity education policy and offer solutions that would allow teachers to continue teaching without violating their beliefs. In addition, Katie and Rachel advocated for the rights of parents to control their children’s upbringing and education.
Using their own time and resources, the two educators posted a video on their website explaining their proposed solutions. Soon after, Grants Pass School District began receiving complaints from people who disagreed with Katie and Rachel.
Instead of defending Katie and Rachel’s right to share their beliefs on their own time, the school district bowed to the mob. It suspended and then terminated both women from their positions because they spoke out about an important issue. The district eventually reinstated Katie and Rachel, but to inferior positions, and Rachel has since left the district.
In June 2021, attorneys with Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) filed a lawsuit in federal district court on behalf of Katie and Rachel. Unfortunately, the district court ruled in favor of the school district, determining that administrators could punish Katie and Rachel for speaking freely simply because some people in the community expressed disagreement with their beliefs. But punishing educators for expressing their opinions on education policy just because some didn’t like what they had to say flies in the face of the First Amendment.
Attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom have partnered with PJI to defend Katie and Rachel’s freedom of speech. Katie and Rachel have appealed the district court’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.
What’s at stake?
The First Amendment protects the rights of all Americans to speak freely and share their beliefs on issues of public concern. Educators do not relinquish this right just because they are employed by a public school.
Katie and Rachel both have firsthand experience in schools, meaning they are uniquely qualified to speak on the topic of education policies. But because some people disagreed with them, their government employer punished them for exercising that right.
Educators must be free to advocate for solutions that protect students, parents, and teachers alike. We should all agree that no one should be punished or retaliated against for expressing their opinions.
- June 2021: PJI attorneys filed a lawsuit on behalf of Katie Medart and Rachel Sager after they were terminated for sharing their beliefs.
- March 2023: A federal district court in Oregon ruled against Katie and Rachel.
- April 2023: After ADF attorneys joined the case to defend Katie and Rachel’s rights, ADF and PJI appealed to the 9th Circuit.
The bottom line
Public schools can’t retaliate against staff for sharing their personal beliefs and ideas.
ADF team members contributed to the writing and publication of this article.