Saturday, April 05, 2003
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
An Unlikely Story from Utah

This is a news development I certainly didn't expect from the state of Utah: the traditionally conservative state's Supreme Court left it up to educational officials at Spanish Fork High School whether they want to fire 20-year veteran, award-winning teacher Wendy (Chandler) Weaver.

Why would they want to fire a teacher with such good recommendations?

Because Chandler took the very risky step of coming out to her students as a lesbian in 1997. Mind you, this is six years ago, so she's had to deal with a hostile school board, indignant parents and all sorts of pressure for that period of time - yet she's still teaching at Spanish Fork High, a very conservative Mormon part of the state, and she hasn't moved on to another part of the country to keep the peace. That, to me, takes a lot of guts.

From CNN:
"She disclosed her sexuality when asked by curious students in 1997. Shortly thereafter, the high school barred her from talking about her sexuality, and Weaver later won a federal lawsuit against the Nebo School District for that requirement.

Parents and students tried to remove Weaver by complaining to the local school board, but the district did not fire the award-winning, 20-year teacher.

They then pursued the case in the state's 4th District Court, but Judge Ray Harding Jr. dismissed the lawsuit in 1999. Those seeking to oust Weaver then sought a declaration from the state Supreme Court saying she was unfit to teach. The declaration would have forced the school board to dismiss Weaver, attorney Matthew Hilton told the Supreme Court in October.

The court declined, saying Weaver's opponents "lack a legally protectible interest in this controversy."
This doesn't seem like big news compared to the war in Iraq, SARS, and big-city news in general, but sometimes you have to take news in context. This is, after all, the state of Utah, and in the more conservative parts of the U.S., this is a major development; it made the Kansas City Star's "Breaking News" coverage.

Wendy Chandler told the Associated Press Friday:
"What they were going after was not really within their right as citizens to do," Weaver said of her critics. "I also believe that they're scared to have their kids see someone who is gay but who functions and is happy and they like. That doesn't go with their perception that gay people are evil or unhealthy." [Chandler], a 1979 Brigham Young University graduate, continues to teach at the school because her ex-husband, children and partner's children live nearby.
However, the story isn't over yet. We don't know if the Nebo, Utah school board will decide whether to fire Chandler, now that the state's highest court has put the decision in their hands. What's important is that her story is similar to so many others of that type that don't get major news coverage: if Spanish Fork does decide to give her her walking papers, at least the world will know about that injustice. It's still happening in our country, despite periodic piecemeal advances in gay and lesbian rights.

If she does get fired, the world will know there's a 20-year veteran teacher with an excellent record out there - that should get hired immediately by a school district with a more contemporary frame of mind.