By Advocate.com Editors
Originally published on Advocate.com October 04 2002 12:00 AM ET
Teacher Wendy Weaver was in class with her students on Thursday while lawyers argued in front of the Utah supreme court whether Weaver should be barred from the classroom because she is a lesbian.
A group of students and parents from Spanish Fork High School near Salt Lake City claim that Weaver's presence in the classroom violates a law requiring teachers to be moral models for their students. Homosexuality, banned under Utah's sodomy statute, makes her unfit to teach, they argue. The Nebo school district board took no action on the complaint against Weaver, who has taught for more than 20 years. District court judge Ray Harding dismissed the case in 1999.
Before the high court Thursday, attorney Matthew Hilton said that because the school board and state education officials have done nothing to pursue the case against Weaver, it should be up to the courts to declare that the teacher's lifestyle violates the law. "It doesn't do any good to have mandatory laws if those laws are not going to be enforced," Hilton said.
The justices seem reluctant to take on that role, however. "These are all elected officials," Justice Leonard H. Russon said, referring to the school board. "Isn't your recourse through the ballot box?"
Justice Michael J. Wilkins added, "I still don't understand what you think the district court should do."
Hilton said he wants a court declaration that Weaver has violated the state mandate to uphold moral standards in the classroom. He'd take that declaration back to the school board and seek to have Weaver dismissed.
"If we gave you the relief you seek...the school board would retain the discretion to do nothing," Justice Matthew B. Durrant said.
Stephen C. Clark, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, argued in Weaver's favor. He told the justices that the legal issue in the case is clear: It should be up to the school board and state licensing officials to decide whether Weaver is fit to teach. The ideological issue is just as clear, he said. "This lawsuit arises out of the fact that Wendy Weaver had the courage to speak out," Clark said. "This lawsuit is part of an effort to counter, to deter, and to punish people like Wendy Weaver. On the one hand, we have a teacher who has done nothing but serve the state and its schoolchildren for more than 20 years. On the other hand, we have those who fear her."
Spanish Fork High School, where Weaver teaches psychology, is located in central Utah, a predominantly conservative, Mormon part of the state.