Settlement Reached In RivCo Teacher’s ‘Religious Beliefs’ Challenge

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JURUPA VALLEY, CA — A former Jurupa Valley High School teacher who said her religious beliefs conflicted with school policies protecting trans students has reached a $360,000 settlement agreement.

The agreement between Jessica Tapia and the Jurupa Unified School District Board of Education was approved by the latter Monday night.

Tapia alleges she was wrongfully terminated by the district in early 2023. She was let go after refusing to abide by state law prohibiting discrimination against transgender and gender-nonconforming students. The legal protections have been challenged by conservative school boards that call for parental notification whenever students request to use names or pronouns different from those on their birth certificates or official records. Tapia is among those who advocate for the notification.

However, California Attorney General Rob Bonta has argued that such parental notification violates the Equal Protection Clause of California’s Constitution and singles out and discriminates against transgender and gender-nonconforming students.

Last year, Bonta filed a lawsuit against Chino Valley Unified School District over its parental notification policy. After the district rescinded the policy this year, the attorney general filed a motion for final judgment in Bonta v. Chino Valley Unified School District. The motion seeks to ensure the CVUSD Board of Education never reinstates its “outing policy,” according to Bonta.

Bonta has warned all the state’s school districts that he will crack down if they implement parental notification policies targeting transgender and gender-nonconforming students. The Murrieta Valley and Temecula Valley school districts are among those on Bonta’s watch list after they adopted a copycat of the CVUSD policy.

In early 2023, Advocates for Faith and Freedom filed a lawsuit challenging Jurupa Unified School District for dismissing Tapia.

“Her termination came after the school district refused to accommodate Jessica’s religious beliefs, which conflicted with the school district’s harmful policies, such as referring to students by their preferred pronouns and withholding information from parents regarding their child’s gender identity,” according to news release Tuesday from Advocates for Faith and Freedom.

Julianne Fleischer, legal counsel for Advocates for Faith and Freedom, said the settlement “serves as a reminder that religious freedom is protected, no matter your career.”

“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,” Tapia said. “Across the country, we are seeing teachers’ freedom of speech and religious liberty violated through policies that require them to forsake their morals.”

Advocates for Faith and Freedom and Tapia have now launched a campaign they are calling “Teachers Don’t Lie.” They say the campaign will support teachers of faith “who are feeling the weight of darkness that has infiltrated the education system.”

The Jurupa Unified School District did not admit any fault or wrongdoing as part of the settlement, according to a district statement, which read, “The decision to settle this case was made in conjunction with the district’s self-insurance administrators and in the best interest of the students, such that the district would be able to dedicate all of its resources and efforts to its student population, regardless of their protected class.”

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