Christian ex-teacher scores big payday from California school district after refusing transgender directives

Christian ex-teacher scores big payday from California school district after refusing transgender directives

Jessica Tapia, a Christian former teacher fired for refusing to use “preferred pronouns” or hide students’ gender identities from their parents, spoke to Fox News Digital after securing a $360,000 settlement from her former employer, California’s Jurupa Unified School District, delivering a message to other educators of faith that “truth will win in the end.” 

The settlement, finalized on Tuesday, comes about a year after Tapia initially sued in California federal court.

Tapia, who was involved with the Jurupa Unified School District for more than two decades, first as a student and then later as a teacher and coach, told Fox News Digital that “from the second that I was pulled into my first meeting with the district, I knew this was some serious spiritual warfare and just a battle on truth that we’re seeing across the nation, especially in education and in and around children.”

The ordeal began on Sept. 30, 2022, when the district gave Tapia “a Notice of Unprofessional Conduct and notified her that pursuant to California Education Code section 44938, she had engaged in unprofessional conduct” and lodged “twelve meritless allegations” against her, per the lawsuit.

CHRISTIAN EX-TEACHER SUES CALIFORNIA DISTRICT AFTER REFUSING TO HIDE KIDS’ GENDER TRANSITIONS FROM PARENTS

Tapia told Fox News Digital that students looked her up on social media and “they discovered things that I don’t discuss in class” and her stance on various topics that revealed she’s an “outspoken Christian conservative.” Tapia said she did not identify herself as being affiliated with the school district on her personal social media account, yet some students took issue with “some of my values and beliefs that didn’t align with theirs.” The students then sent the district about seven or eight specific posts from her “Jesus highlight” on Instagram.

“Once students found me on social media, they reported me immediately to the school district. The next day, I was pulled out of my class away from my students, never to return again,” Tapia told Fox News Digital. “I was placed on paid administrative leave, which then led to three various meetings at the school district office.” 

The lawsuit says the district accused her of “posting offensive content on her public Instagram account, referencing her faith during conversations with students, and expressing controversial opinions on issues pertaining to gender identity.” In the second meeting, the district presented Tapia with “A Plan of Assistance and Directives,” which required that she “lie to parents about their children’s gender identity, refer to students by their preferred pronouns, refrain from expressing her religious beliefs with students or on her social media, and allow students to use the bathroom or locker room that matched their preferred sex.”

Tapia sought a religious accommodation, arguing she would not be able to comply with the directives because they went against her beliefs.

“That third and final meeting in January 2023 was the religious accommodation meeting where I was questioned up and down on my Christian faith,” Tapia said. “And at the end of that, they decided from that that they could not accommodate my religious beliefs and were therefore firing me.”

Tapia told Fox News Digital she never had a student come up to her asking to identify by the sex opposite of the one listed on her class roster or asking to be permitted into the girls’ locker room as a biological male, so the directives were all based on how she “would hypothetically handle a situation with a transgender student if I were to ever have one.”

With the loss of income, Tapia told Fox News Digital that she was concerned her family would lose their house, but she found comfort through the Bible verse Matthew 10:39, which says, “Whoever finds their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for My sake will find it.” 

“I could have saved my life. When I say life in this circumstance, I’m obviously meaning my teaching career, my salary; I could have saved it myself. I could have taken control of that. I could have saved it by just saying yes and bowing down to these directives,” Tapia said. “But, you know, I chose to realize that, you know, God is in control. He’s in control of my life. And if I do lose my life or lose … my job in this situation, I don’t know how that’s going to look, but somehow God’s going to show me my life, or I’m going to find my life. I’m going to find my true purpose, by choosing Him, by choosing to stand in the truth here.”

Her attorney, Julianne Fleischer of Advocates for Faith & Freedom, a nonprofit law firm dedicated to religious liberty that took on the case in May 2023, told Fox News Digital that Tapia had “no negative performance reviews” and always “maintained a level of respect for every student that she’s had.” 

“The school district specifically terminated her because of her religious beliefs,” Fleischer said. “What we’re seeing with these types of directives at school districts across the nation as they’re implementing these different transgender policies and threatening teachers and educators with termination from their employment, is a type of religious test … because what they’re essentially saying is you need to ascribe to our own religion or you’re no longer qualified to serve as a public school teacher. And so, Jessica’s religious beliefs become second class to the school district’s ideology as it relates to transgender and transgender policies.”

“What the district has done and with this type of test, it essentially makes it so no teacher of faith is qualified to serve in a public school setting,” she added.

Since she graduated from Jurupa Valley High School in 2010 and later came back to the district “that essentially raised me” as a teacher, coach and lifeguard, Tapia said she found the changes happening in society and culture to be “very bizarre” but that “government education” seems to have adapted to them. She said if the “so-called religion that the school districts apparently hold were in place when I was a student,” she probably would not ever have been involved with the Bible study that her swim coach invited her to attend throughout high school as a teenager.

Reached for comment Wednesday, the Jurupa Unified School District said “the settlement is not a win for Ms. Tapia but is in compromise of a disputed claim.” 

“Ms. Tapia is no longer an employee of the District and has agreed and understands that she may not seek reemployment with the District,” the district spokesperson said. “The settlement certainly does not state or prove any illegal action or discrimination by the District. The District continues to deny any illegal action or discrimination against Ms. Tapia.” 

The spokesperson also stressed that the district has not admitted any fault or wrongdoing against Tapia. 

“The decision to settle this case was made in conjunction with the District’s self-insurance authority and in the best interest of the students, such that the District can continue to dedicate all of its resources and efforts to educate and support its student population regardless of their protected class,” the spokesperson continued. “The Jurupa Unified School District remains committed to providing all students with a safe and welcoming learning environment. The District will continue to follow all local, state, and federal laws, including laws against harassment and discrimination to protect its students and employees.” 

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Tapia has partnered with Advocates for Faith & Freedom on an initiative called “Teachers Don’t Lie,” which aims to provide resources to teachers of faith about their constitutional rights.

She said teachers don’t lie to students, to their parents and, lastly, to themselves.

“These are our students, but they’re not our children. And so, we have to hold that … respect for parents; parental rights first and foremost, above anything, that’s their child,” Tapia told Fox News Digital. “I was being asked to leave my beliefs at the schoolhouse gate for the eight hours a day that I was there and just do … whatever they were asking me to do. You know, and that was a scary thought, too, because I’m like, ‘If this is what you’re asking me to do now, I know it’s not going to stop here.'”

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