(Paul Chesser, Liberty Headlines) In a follow-up to a request by a legal advocacy group to protect students’ religious and political liberty from intimidation by a radical lesbian teacher, Hillsborough County (Fla.) school officials allegedly interrogated affected students without allowing them to inform their parents first.
That’s according to Liberty Counsel, which is representing four students who were subject to alleged harassment and shaming by Lora Jane Riedas, a math teacher at Riverview High School. The legal group said district officials investigating Riedas’s behaviors called students into the office, forbade them from contacting their parents, required them to answer questions in interviews that were recorded, and allegedly claimed afterward “the investigation happened too fast to inform parents.”
Liberty Counsel called the schools’ investigation “pitiful” and “a whitewash.”
Some of the charges against Riedas were initiated as the result of her efforts to promote a “Day of Silence” in April, organized by the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). She was also accused by three students, represented by Liberty Counsel, of requiring them to remove rosaries and Christian cross necklaces in her classroom. Another student claimed that Riedas and her “wife” Valerie Chuchman, a chemistry teacher at the school, on two separate occasions confiscated a Trump “Make America Great Again” (MAGA) cap from his hands in late 2016.
But according to a report in the Tampa Bay Times from earlier this month, Riedas said the results of the district’s investigation cleared her “100 percent.”
“I am just relieved, relaxed, for the first time in two weeks,” she told the newspaper.
Liberty Counsel disputes the district’s findings and that Riedas was properly investigated.
According to the letter from Hillsborough County Schools which Riedas said “cleared” her, she was informed on April 21 that she would be investigated. Students were brought in a week later, on April 28, to be interviewed, which belied the claim there wasn’t enough time to inform the students’ parents. Seven days later, on May 5, school officials conveyed the findings of their investigation to Riedas.
The letter stated that:
- Students said Riedas asked the student with the MAGA hat to remove it from his head, because she does not allow any hats to be worn. The letter does not mention confiscation of the hat.
- Some students said Riedas required cross necklaces to be removed; but the majority interviewed said she required those wearing rosary beads to remove them, because they could denote gang affiliation.
- Riedas put stickers on students’ notebooks (apparently without their consent) but they didn’t not have the letters “LGBT” on them.
- Riedas used her social media accounts to promote her LGBT and GLSEN agenda, but she claimed it was not during instructional time.
- Riedas did not use her role as a student advisor the the GLSEN group “to coerce, force or encourage students to participate in Riverview’s Day of Silence.”
“The evidence obtained in the investigation does not support the allegations and established that there was no malicious intent on your part to intentionally harm, disparage or embarrass students,” wrote Mary Frances Ledo, general manager of professional standards for Hillsborough County Schools.
But Liberty Counsel says it gathered evidence that contradicted most, if not all, of those findings. According to the group’s refutation:
- The student’s MAGA hat was confiscated while he was holding it, not wearing it, by Riedas — one month after Chuchman had similarly confiscated it and kept it in the school office for the entire period.
- Riedas improperly banned both rosaries and crosses, telling students to “take it off or cover it up,” contrary to the school’s student handbook. Students wearing “substantially similar secular necklaces” were not told to cover up.
- Letters, buttons, posters and other materials in Riedas’s classroom promote her LGBT advocacy.
- The stickers placed on students’ folders were rainbow stickers denoting LGBT advocacy. “The only reasonable interpretation of Ms. Riedas’s rainbow notebook stickers, in the context of a classroom decorated with pro-LGBT political ideology…is that the stickers are pro-LGBT. In the classroom context of all her LGBT propaganda, it is obvious that the rainbow reflects her bullying of the students by forcing them to display her LGBT political message.”
- Timestamps of Riedas’s Tweets and social media use, employing her political advocacy, were during school instructional hours.
Liberty Counsel also cited Riedas’s media interviews about her LGBT advocacy as evidence of her treatment of social and religiously conservative students.
“In other media, she has publicly accused the above students of ‘lying’ about her actions,” lawyers for Liberty Counsel wrote to the school system. “Students whom Ms. Riedas likes and agrees with are favored, while students whom she dislikes or disagrees with have their cross necklaces banned, their Trump hats taken, or are kicked out of class. Her activities are alienating students of faith or with conservative viewpoints, and are contributing to a substantial disruption of the learning environment.”
Liberty Counsel requested that Hillsborough schools take corrective measures on all its concerns regarding students’ and teachers’ religious liberty and free speech, or else face “further action” from the legal group.