LGBT Equality - In May 2001, a group of Utah County citizens asked the Utah Supreme Court to reverse a Utah district court decision dismissing their case against Nebo School District teacher Wendy Weaver. Weaver, who is a long-time teacher at Spanish Fork High School, received national attention when she successfully sued the Nebo County School District for requiring her to sign a gag order that prohibited her from discussing her sexual orientation in or outside of the classroom. Because Weaver had the courage to stand up to such blatant discrimination, a group of Utah County citizens filed a lawsuit in December 1997 seeking to have her banned from teaching altogether, and in 1998, the ACLU of Utah and cooperating attorney Rick Van Wagoner defended her from its groundless claims.
As in the initial lawsuit, appellants argued that “Because public teachers are examples for their students, a public teacher is not to support or encourage criminal conduct while in her official capacity or engage in private conduct that is known or should be known that would materially and substantially disrupt the academic activities of the school where the teaching occurs.” The parents were now essentially asking the Utah Supreme Court to do what the experts at both the Division of Professional Licensing and the state school board refused to do – forbid Weaver from teaching school. On March 14, 2002, we filed our appellate brief with the court.
In April 2003, the Utah Supreme Court ended Weaver’s five-year legal battle. In a unanimous ruling, the court noted that any method for remedying school teacher violations already exists through professional boards; that no private right of action exists for students or parents of students to enforce requirements for public school employees; that the court is not a forum for mere advisory opinions; and that it had no authority to fire Weaver or order the school board to do so. The decision is an important reminder that individuals cannot look to the courts to enforce their prejudicial views about lesbian and gay teachers.