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Pregnant or Gay Teachers Face Strict Moral Demands



Even when they aren’t fired for being pregnant or gay, teachers face strict moral demands

by Kyle Greenwalt for The Conversation

Pregnant teachers in classrooms are routine these days. But the law didn’t always protect expectant women in any workplace.

As part of her stump speech, Sen. Elizabeth Warren tells a story about being fired from her job as a speech pathologist for special needs children once she became pregnant back in 1971. Sharing this chapter in her history has prompted dozens of other women to speak out about their own similar experiences.

And while things have changed quite a bit, teachers are still confronting evolving restrictions on what they can or can’t do – inside and outside the classroom – typically based on moral grounds.

As a professor who instructs students who are training to become teachers, part of my job is to prepare them to uphold these ethical standards. I also have to explain that these standards are rarely clear and change all the time.

“This was 1971, years before Congress outlawed pregnancy discrimination—but we know it still happens in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. We can fight back by telling our stories. I tell mine on the campaign trail, and I hope to hear yours.”

Nurturing teachers

The lawyer Horace Mann, who became the first secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education in 1837, is best known for his leadership in bringing about the nation’s universal, taxpayer-supported, public education system. But that isn’t Mann’s only educational legacy.

In the early 1800s, teaching was largely itinerant work for young men who were preparing for careers in other professions. Mann believed teaching should become women’s work. Replacing stern school masters with gentle, nurturing school mistresses, he reasoned, would build public support for schools.

The 19th-century educational leader Horace Mann. New York Public Library

In an 1844 report to the Massachusetts Board of Education, he praised teachers who were able to maintain a “beautiful relation of harmony and affection” with their students. He thought that their work was “better than parental.”

By 1870, 60% of the nation’s teachers were women. Over the next 50 years, the share of female teachers kept growing, eventually exceeding 80%, according to historical data from the National Center for Educational Statistics. Even today, 2 out of 3 high school and nearly 9 in 10 elementary school teachers are women.

Denying them kids of their own

What it means to be a good teacher has shifted over time, along with prevailing views on what constitutes moral behavior. Teachers’ employment contracts have always reflected these notions.

A Story County, Iowa, contract from 1905, for example, required all teachers to go to church every Sunday and “take an active part, particularly in choir and Sunday School work.” It forbade dancing, drinking booze, playing cards, smoking or “loitering” in ice cream parlors.

Some rules for those Iowa teachers varied by gender. The 1905 teachers contract specified how often male teachers could go “courting.” But it also warned that “women teachers who marry or engage in other unseemly conduct will be dismissed.”

This discrimination eased gradually, partly due to labor union demands. Starting in 1915, for instance, New York State allowed women to work as teachers after having children – but not while pregnant. Expectant teachers had to take unpaid leave, with no guarantee that their job would be awaiting them later on.

The Supreme Court eventually found that mandatory maternity leave for teachers violated the Constitution, in its 1974 Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFleur ruling– three years after Warren says she lost her teaching job for being pregnant. Congress passed a law that banned pregnancy discrimination in all lines of work four years later.

Redefining moral turpitude

Due to a combination of changes in state and federal laws, judicial rulings and labor organizing, teachers now have far more protections from arbitrary dismissal and unwanted public attention to their lives outside of the classroom.

For example, 46 states grant teachers tenure after one to five years of probationary teaching – meaning that they cannot be fired without just cause. Until then, they have few protections.

What’s more, tenure can be revoked based on grounds that vary by state. The reasons can go beyond incontrovertible rationales, such as incompetence or neglecting their duties. Even today, nearly all states have laws that permit the dismissal of a teacher for immorality, immoral character or moral turpitude. In turn, those rules affect the rights of teachers hired at the local level.

Because the authorities do not clearly define what constitutes immorality, teachers face inconsistent standards that are constantly changing. Legal cases involving teachers dismissed on moral grounds because of their sexual orientation make that clear.

In 1962, Thomas Sarac lost his teaching job after being arrested for making sexual advances to another man, in public, in Long Beach, California. A district court upheld his dismissal and the loss of his teaching credentials based on what it called “immoral and unprofessional conduct and evident unfitness for service.”

But in 1963, Marc Morrison, another California teacher, was fired for having had a sexual relationship with a man, in private, which led to a similar court case. California’s supreme court ruled in Morrison’s favor six years later, finding that a teacher’s “immoral behavior” must have a demonstrative impact on their “fitness to teach.”

In 1971, a student’s mother informed the principal of Cascade High School in Turner, Oregon, that biology teacher Peggy Burton was “a homosexual.” Burton didn’t deny it, so he fired her – and she became the first U.S. LGBTQ teacher to file a federal civil rights suit. A district court judge awarded her US$10,000 (the equivalent of $63,400 today), but Burton didn’t get her job back because she lacked tenure.

An Oregon law passed in 2007 now prevents such firings, but 28 states including Florida and Montana lack legal protections for LGBTQ employees.

Protecting sexual freedoms

Several other rulings protected sexual freedoms for teachers.

In 1974, a district court judge found that Frances Fisher, a divorced Nebraska teacher who lived alone, shouldn’t have been fired for having a man sleep in her apartment and ordered her job reinstated.

In 1976, another district court considered the firing of Joseph P. Sedule, a married Delaware school administrator, for reasons related to his affair with a woman who was also married to someone else. That ruling dismissed moral concerns about adultery and focused instead on Sedule’s workplace misconduct, finding the firing justified on that basis alone.

More recently, many court cases have tested the limits of teachers’ online sexual behavior, indicating that society still expects teachers to meet strict moral standards.

For example, the San Diego Unified School District fired middle school teacher Frank Lampedusa after he posted a graphic gay personal ad on Craigslist. A state appeals court upheld Lampedusa’s firing.

Meanwhile, LGBTQ teachers in Catholic schools can still lose their jobs on the grounds that they are violating immorality clauses in their contracts.

Lingering expectations

In his 1973 ruling on the landmark LGBTQ civil rights case brought by Oregon teacher Peggy Burton, Judge Gus Solomon observed that “immorality means different things to different people.”

He went on to question whether school board members should be the arbiters of a community’s moral standards, arguing that the “potential for arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement is inherent” in any official attempt to define moral codes.

Nearly half a century later, there are still no clear answers to questions about what teachers can or can’t do to meet society’s ethical ideals as role models for children.

The Conversation publishes knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and supported by evidence from academics and researchers in order to inform public debate with facts, clarity and insight into society’s biggest problems.

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Virgina Bans Controversial “Conversion Therapy” for LGBTQ Youth



Photo by Kristel Hayes

RICHMOND — Young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer in Virginia now are protected from “conversion therapy,” after Gov. Ralph Northam signed a law banning the practice .

The therapy involves mental-health practitioners trying to get a person to change sexual orientation or gender identity, and it’s been widely discredited. Virginia resident Adam Trimmer, who’s been through the controversial practice, said his therapist told him his sexual orientation was the result of an overbearing mother and a distant father.

Trimmer, who now serves as Virginia ambassador for anti-conversion therapy group Born Perfect, said it almost ruined his relationships with his parents.

“Conversion therapy completely wrecked our family. It wrecked my identity, it wrecked our family, and you don’t want this to happen in your family,” he said. “The issue is not that your child is part of the LGBTQ community. They just need someone to talk to.”

Virginia now is the 20th state — and the first in the South — to outlaw the controversial practice. The ban takes effect July 1.

The conversion-therapy bill is considered a historic breakthrough for LGBTQ Southerners, according to the Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality. She said more than one-third of all LGBTQ Americans live in the South.

“This continues to be the part of the country where discrimination is most enshrined in state law,” she said, “or where we haven’t been able to have the breakthroughs in pro-LGBTQ equality and laws that we’ve seen in other parts of the country.”

Currently, 28 states don’t have any laws that protect the more than 13 million LGBTQ Americans from discrimination. Other landmark rights bills also passed Virginia’s House and Senate, and are on their way to the governor.

The text of the legislation, House Bill 386, is online at, and a Williams Institute LGBTQ fact sheet is at

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House Passes Schiff’s Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act



WASHINGTON D.C. – Rep. Adam Schiff has applauded the bipartisan passage of The Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act, which would add more than 191,000 acres of the Rim of the Valley Corridor to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA). The bill passed the House on a bipartisan basis with 231 Yeas and 183 Nays

Schiff first introduced this legislation in 2017, and Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris introduced companion legislation in the Senate. It recently passed out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on a bipartisan basis.

To view a map of the proposed expansion under the Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act, click here

“I am thrilled that the House of Representatives has passed the Rim of the Valley Corridor Preservation Act, legislation I have championed for nearly 20 years,” Congressman Schiff said. “Preservation of the open space in our communities is not only good for our environment, wildlife, and ecosystems, but it is beneficial for the health and well-being of residents of all ages. The Rim of the Valley corridor is an area of striking and breathtaking natural beauty, and we must do whatever we can to preserve that beauty for the benefit of LA residents, the millions each year who visit, and for generations to come.”

“Today’s vote in the House is a win for the Rim of the Valley Corridor and the millions of Los Angeles County residents living in the surrounding communities,” said Senator Feinstein. “Preserving this unspoiled terrain will protect sensitive habitat for California wildlife and open space to benefit local economies. I am glad that Congressman Schiff was able to pass it in the House and look forward to doing the same here in the Senate, where it has already advanced out of committee.”

“The Rim of the Valley corridor is home to some of Southern California’s most beautiful wildlife and landscapes,” said Senator Harris. “That is why we must take immediate steps to protect this area’s habitats and natural resources. I am grateful to Congressman Schiff for his leadership on this issue and I applaud the House of Representatives for prioritizing the preservation of this area so it can be enjoyed by future generations. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to get this bill across the finish line.”

The proposed expansion is based on a six-year study of the region completed by the National Park Service in 2015. This legislation would expand the SMMNRA to include many, but not all, of the land included in the study. The lands included within the expansion will be known as the Rim of the Valley Unit and stretches from the Simi Hills and Santa Susanas to the Verdugos and on to the San Gabriel Mountains. The bill will enable NPS and the local community to better protect natural resources and habitats, and provide members of the community with improved access to nature for recreational and educational purposes.

To view the fact sheet about the legislation, click here.

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Significant Funding Announced for LA River Restoration Project



WASHINGTON, D.C. – Reps. Adam Schiff, Lucille Roybal-Allard, and Jimmy Gomez have applauded the first significant federal funding for the LA River Restoration Project, which will revitalize more than 700 acres of open space along a broad stretch of the Los Angeles River from Griffith Park to downtown Los Angeles.

“The funding announced by the Army Corps of Engineers this week marks an important milestone in the decades-long effort to restore the Los Angeles River to its original natural beauty,” said Rep. Schiff. “I will continue working with the City of Los Angeles and the Corps to build further momentum on this project to revitalize the river’s aquatic ecosystem and provide much-needed green space for all Angelenos.”

“I am delighted that the Army Corps of Engineers’ Fiscal Year 2020 Work Plan provides critical funding to revitalize the LA River,” said Rep. Roybal-Allard. “As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, I have fought hard to ensure the Army Corps has the funding it needs to move forward with this project, and I will keep up that fight in the years to come as we keep working to restore the river in our Southeast communities.  Restoring the LA River in the Southeast will improve the health and quality of life for families near the river, and provide these neighborhoods with much-needed new green space for recreation.”

“Strong federal investments toward revitalizing the Los Angeles River represent a major victory for our constituents, our city’s diverse communities, and the wildlife whose lives depend on the river’s ecosystem,” said Rep. Gomez. “The Los Angeles River provides us with a unique opportunity to prioritize green spaces for all Angelinos while also strengthening the river’s habitat connectivity. I deeply appreciate the efforts by the Army Corps of Engineers to transform this historic waterway.”

“The L.A. River is an iconic treasure — a place that holds a special place in the history of our city and limitless potential for the future of our communities,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “Thanks to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, we will have the funding to help our river reach its full potential, restore an incredible natural habitat in the heart of Los Angeles, and connect more Angelenos to this remarkable resource in our own backyard.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released their Work Plan for Fiscal Year 2020, which includes $1.857 million for preconstruction engineering and design (PED) activities for the Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration Project, the first federal funding since FY17 and FY16, when the project received $400,000 and $100,000, respectively, for PED activities.

In April 2019, Schiff, Roybal-Allard, Gomez, and 12 colleagues from the Los Angeles area urged the House Appropriations Committee to provide strong funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In the appropriations legislation that passed in December, Congress increased funding for the Corps by nearly 10% for Fiscal Year 2020—a 50% increase from the President’s budget request. This funding supports the Corps’ important ongoing civil works projects across the nation, including the Los Angeles River Ecosystem Restoration Project.

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