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'I Resolve' lawsuit against Grants Pass School District 7 dismissed

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Screenshot / iresolvemovement.com
Katie Medart, l, and Rachel Sager in a screen capture from their 2021 video "I Resolve Movement: Response to Gender Identity Policies."

A lawsuit against the Grants Pass School District was dismissed on Wednesday. It came from two women who created the controversial “I Resolve” video campaign and claimed their rights were violated.

On Wednesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark D. Clarke dismissed the case, ruling that their rights had not been violated.

"While the decision to terminate Plaintiffs' employment was made according to District policies, those policies did not violate Plaintiffs' constitutional rights," the decision reads.

In 2021, Rachel Sager (then Damiano) and Katie Medart were employed by Grants Pass School District 7 when they created a video called “I Resolve Movement: Response to Gender Identity Policies.”

In it, they discuss a series of resolutions regarding transgender students’ pronouns, name changes and bathroom access at school that some consider to be transphobic. They encourage viewers to contact political representatives to advocate for their message and to protest proposed legislation. Medart also mentions a specific trans male student in her class, although she does not name him.

After receiving what the district claimed was nearly 100 complaints, it placed the pair on leave and later fired them for violating district policies, including using time during the work day for political campaign purposes, not explaining that their viewpoints were personal and not those of the district and using social media so that it disrupted the school environment. (The board later reversed its decision; Medart is still employed by the district).

Sager and Medart sued, claiming their their First Amendment right to free speech was violated, in addition to violation of Equal Protection under the Fourteenth Amendment, violation of their right to free speech under the Oregon Constitution and employment discrimination.

Clarke's decision states that the school district's interests outweigh Sager and Megart's First Amendment rights: "The District has a legitimate interest in protecting the safety and wellbeing of its students that outweigh Plaintiffs' right to comment on matters of public concern."

In his decision, Clarke wrote that Sager and Medart's "speech caused a disruption to the District."

"Students staged protests [...] Administrators had to spend significant time responding to these issues. Other teachers and staff were offended or upset by Plaintiffs' conduct, particularly in promoting their video at school during school hours, thus harming the working relationship between school staff," the decision reads.

"Here, Plaintiffs created a disruption and the potential for disruption with both their off- and on-campus activities. They did so by advocating to reduce rights of transgender students. No law clearly establishes that Plaintiffs' termination in these circumstances violated plaintiffs' First Amendment or Equal Protection rights," Clarke wrote.

Sager and Megart had argued that it was not their conduct that caused the disruption, but others' reaction to it.  

They also brought a complaint of religious discrimination because they were "expressing their biblically-based views on gender and sexuality."

However, Clark wrote that they failed to connect the video to their protected status as Christians, saying, “Expressing a pro-Black Lives Matter viewpoint is not inherently un-Christian, and expressing an anti-LGBTQ+ or anti-Trans viewpoint is not an inherently Christian viewpoint.” 

Sager and Medart’s attorney, Ray Hacke of the Pacific Justice Institute in Salem, said they plan to appeal the decision by April 28.

"It’s obviously very disappointing. I think there’s a whole volume of case law that Judge Mark Clarke ignored, and the decision is screaming for appeal, and we do plan to appeal it," he said.

He said the judge overlooked crucial Supreme Court cases about freedom of speech and religion.

"Teachers do not shed their freedom of speech at the schoolhouse gate and that schools cannot attempt to silence certain viewpoints just because they come with a certain amount of discomfort and unpleasantness or because they’re unpopular," he said.

An attorney for the school district and school board vice chair Debbie Brownell declined to comment.

Jane Vaughan is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. Jane began her journalism career as a reporter for a community newspaper in Portland, Maine. She's been a producer at New Hampshire Public Radio and worked on WNYC's On The Media.