Axed Over Opposition to Trans Policies, California Teacher Wants To Take Her Case to Supreme Court

Jessica Tapia asked for religious exemption from California's trans policies. She was fired instead.

Jessica Tapia / courtesy of Jessica Tapia
May 9, 2023

Jessica Tapia, a physical education teacher in Southern California, first found herself in trouble last year after students discovered her Instagram account. No, she wasn't posting the sorts of bikini-clad pictures that have put other teachers on the chopping block—Tapia shared Bible verses and stated that people cannot change their biological sex.

School district officials fired Tapia over the posts, and now she wants to take her case to the Supreme Court, arguing that the Los Angeles-area school district violated her religious and speech rights.

"I think we need to go to the Supreme Court with this," Tapia told the Washington Free Beacon. "I know the majority of parents don't want to be lied to about their children."

Tapia, a Christian, filed a lawsuit in federal court last week alleging that the Jurupa Unified School District sought to "force her to [forgo] her religious beliefs to maintain public employment" and punished her speech in a "discriminatory manner."

Her lawsuit came days after two other Southern California teachers jointly sued their school district on similar grounds over a requirement that they hide students' transgender identities from parents. The pair of cases have set California's nation-leading integration of radical gender ideology in education on a legal collision course with federally guaranteed religious rights. If the teachers win, it could deal a serious blow to the progressive educational agenda. If they lose, it could permanently force religious educators out of the public school system.

Sarah Parshall Perry, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, told the Free Beacon that Tapia's case could deal a blow to California's regime of woke gender education.

"The law is definitely on this teacher's side, especially when she was not given a religious exemption," Perry said. "When a superintendent or school policy butts against the Constitution, the Constitution prevails."

Tapia attended Jurupa Valley High School as a student before becoming the P.E. teacher in 2021. She had worked in the district since 2014, most recently at the Mira Loma Middle School, where she received a number of glowing evaluations, according to her lawsuit. The principal in 2018 called Tapia an "emerging new teacher" and an "asset" to the school and in 2019, following Tapia's promotion to a leadership role, wrote that students "absolutely 'love' her" and "often request to be in Mrs. Tapia's class."

But last spring, after Tapia transferred to the high school, school district administrators told her they had received complaints about her Instagram posts and were launching an investigation, according to the lawsuit. Tapia was placed on paid leave until the fall, when the district found she was guilty of "unprofessional conduct," including allegedly expressing offensive opinions about gender identity and talking to students about her religious beliefs.

As part of her return to school, the district directed Tapia to "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," per the lawsuit. Under California law, students must be allowed to use restrooms that correspond to their self-declared genders, but there is no statute that orders teachers to lie to parents about their kids.

Tapia said that she had only spoken to students about her religious beliefs in response to questions about the subject and that she had never had a student request to be treated as transgender. Still, Tapia said she could not agree to the district's directives on principle, as they violated her biblically based beliefs. After taking another leave of absence, Tapia in January requested a religious exemption from the district's mandates.

But, according to the lawsuit, "the district determined that it could not accommodate Ms. Tapia's religious beliefs without violating California and federal law, 'aimed at protecting students and providing all students a discrimination and harassment-free learning environment.'"

"This lawsuit is a step in the right direction to hold our elected officials accountable and defend the rights and protections guaranteed to all Americans under the First Amendment," said Tapia's lawyer, Mariah Gondeiro, in a statement to the Free Beacon. "Teachers and parents across the country should not have to worry that their personal beliefs and moral convictions will be attacked by elected leaders and government bureaucrats."

The district did not respond to a request for comment.

In March, California Republicans introduced a bill, inspired by Tapia's story, to require school employees to notify a student's parents if the student starts identifying as transgender.