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Grants Pass school board votes to reinstate ‘I Resolve’ educators

North Middle School’s Rachel Damiano and Katie Medart were fired in July after an investigation found they violated district policy when they spoke openly about gender-identity education policies

Two former Grants Pass School District 7 employees will be reinstated to their jobs after the school board reversed its decision to fire them for violating district policy on free speech.

The board voted 4-3 Tuesday, taking back the superintendent’s recommendation in July to terminate North Middle School assistant principal Rachel Damiano and science teacher Katie Medart after they participated in the “I Resolve” movement, which the two co-founded, aimed at creating “sound” gender-identity education policies.

“It has been a very difficult seven months. We are grateful for the courage of the majority of board members that chose to reinstate us,” Damiano and Medart said in a prepared statement. “Grants Pass School District needs to be a place where students, staff, parents and community members are safe to express themselves without fear of retaliation or cancellation.”

They said they look forward to working with the district to be reestablished in their respective jobs.

“We believe we not only bring value to the [d]istrict, but also bring back with us beneficial insights shared with us by our community throughout this ordeal,” Damiano and Medart wrote. “Thank you to our community: parents, students, staff, grandparents, etc. for all the support and showing we are stronger when we stand together.”

The district released a brief statement following the vote.

“Personnel matters are confidential, and therefore the details of reinstatement cannot be disclosed,” the district stated. “Grants Pass School District 7 will continue to follow all state and federal laws. We have school board policies in place to support safe environments for students and staff, and we will continue protecting the well-being of everyone in our schools.”

The statement added, “Regardless of race, religion, gender, sex, sexual orientation or ability, we all belong in Grants Pass School District 7.”

It concluded by saying, “Due to ongoing, pending litigation, we cannot comment on this matter further.”

The Tuesday vote saw many board members take up the same positions they had before — those who voted to terminate did not vote to reinstate and vice versa.

Board Chair Scott Nelson and members Brian DeLagrange and Debbie Brownell all voted “no” on the motion to reverse the school board’s earlier decision to terminate. Members Cassie Wilkins, C. Todd Neville, Gary Richardson and Cliff Kuhlman all voted “yes” to reinstate.

Kuhlman was the swing vote, reversing his position in July to terminate the educators and instead give them their jobs back. He did not immediately respond to comment, but board chairman Nelson did.

“We as a board recognize the divisive nature this debate has caused within our community,” he wrote in an email to the Mail Tribune. “We sincerely hope that regardless of where one stands on the issues, we can treat each other with civility and respect as we work together to heal damaged relations on both sides.”

On social media, supporters of Damiano and Medart were jubilant over the news. In an interview with the Mail Tribune following the vote, Daniel Hicks, a parent of a former student of Medart’s, expressed his appreciation to the board.

“Yes, they [Damiano and Medart] did make a mistake, but it was very heavy-handed,” Hicks said. “It should have been resolved at a far lower public level than this and it probably never should have gone to the board, as far as I’m concerned. The staff members should never have been fired to begin with.”

He applauded Medart as a teacher, based on his son’s feedback.

“He said, ‘she made science fun,’” Hicks said. “So, he actually learned quite a lot and was clear in saying that he wouldn’t normally be interested in science. It was the teacher that made him really enjoy that class.”

This past spring, Damiano and Medart started the “I Resolve” movement to “promote sound gender-identity educational policies” in response to state and federal legislation on the topic that was circulating. The educators carried out “I Resolve” through a website, social media and public events.

The district then ordered a third-party investigation, which found Diamano and Medart used district facilities and equipment to conduct personal business that was political in nature; used paid district time to promote those efforts; and failed to identify that their political viewpoints did not reflect the district.

The educators contend they conducted their “I Resolve” efforts as private citizens and did not use district resources to accomplish it. Further, they say they met with district officials about the website prior to its launch, and they alleged officials were not critical of their efforts and did not warn them they might be violating district policy.

In a letter to the community posted on social media earlier this year, Damiano and Medart fired back at the district for its decision to fire them.

“It’s one thing to ignore our suggestions [and] quite another to say we’re not allowed to speak at all and to terminate us for our speech,” Medart and Damiano wrote.

They added, “if they’re [district leaders] going to punish us for simply speaking out, then it’s time to do more than act; it’s time to take action.”

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.