A technique used by teachers to connect with students thrust Mansfield art teacher Stacy Bailey into the national debate about discrimination and what constitutes a family.
On the first day of school, Bailey showed students pictures of her parents, her fiancee and best friends — it's a common icebreaker with teachers as they try to connect with students. But instead of building school community, she lost the thing she loves to do — teaching kids about art — because the person she promised to marry was a woman. After a parent complained, the district put Bailey on administrative leave.
Now, a federal judge will decide if the Mansfield school district violated Bailey's rights.
"It is shocking and disappointing that Mansfield district officials treated my wife differently when she spoke about her family, just as every teacher does," Julie Vasquez, Bailey's wife since March, said in a prepared statement Tuesday shortly after Bailey filed lawsuit in a Dallas federal court. "She was singled out because her spouse happens to be a woman."
Vasquez, Bailey and their attorney, Jason Smith, held a press conference Tuesday afternoon to announce the lawsuit. At about 1:45 p.m. they met with North Texas reporters at Belo Garden in downtown Dallas. It was Bailey's first appearance before reporters since she was pulled from class on Sept. 8 and placed on leave. She did not speak to reporters. She has been working in the district for 10 years.
"Today, Stacy Bailey filed suit against Mansfield ISD because it discriminated against her in violation of the United States Constitution," Smith told reporters.
Smith said Bailey will be vindicated in court, stating that federal law has stated that it is unconstitutional to discriminate against gays and lesbians.
"The law is on Stacy's side," Smith said, adding that Bailey wants to return her post at Charlotte Anderson Elementary in Arlington.
School board president Raul Gonzalez referred questions to Donald Williams, the school district's spokesman, who did not return messages.
The district released a statement late Tuesday afternoon saying it denied the allegations in the lawsuit and that there had never been an issue with Bailey's sexual orientation until this year.
"That’s when her actions in the classroom changed, which prompted her students to voice concerns to their parents," the statement said. "The issue at Charlotte Anderson Elementary School is whether Mrs. Bailey has followed District guidelines requiring that controversial subjects be taught in 'an impartial and objective manner. Teachers shall not use the classroom to transmit personal belief regarding political or sectarian issues.'
"The record will show through discovery in this lawsuit that Mansfield ISD is and has been an inclusive, supportive environment for LGBT staff for decades."
Jonathan Saenz, the president of the Christian advocacy group Texas Values, called the lawsuits "frivolous" in a press statement.
“This frivolous lawsuit is another sad example of how LGBT advocates put politics over parental rights and indoctrination over education. We urge the MISD School Board to stand for parental rights and not back down," Saenz said.
The district recently renewed Bailey's contract for the upcoming school year. It also offered to let her teach at a secondary school, Smith said. However, not allowing Bailey back to Charlotte Anderson leaves her stigmatized, he said. He added that it is difficult to be hired by other districts after being placed on administrative leave.
"My wife has endured eight months of isolation, mistreatment, and silence imposed on her by Mansfield ISD," Vasquez said in a prepared statement. "The district has violated my wife's constitutional rights, which protect her from this treatment, and we are standing up for them today."
The controversy has taken place as the couple embarked on a new life as a married couple. Vasquez and Bailey were married on March 16 in a courthouse in south Dallas. They had been a couple for seven years after meeting at a softball game.
Vasquez said their status with the district has been difficult and a "roller coaster" of emotions
"We have been shocked," Vasquez said. "We have been hit deeply."
The support from Charlotte Anderson parents and students has given the couple hope.
Hannah Olsen, the mother of a student at Charlotte Anderson, said she is angry at how the district has treated Bailey and her supporters at Charlotte Anderson.
"I am amazed and thankful that Ms. Bailey still wants to come back to Charlotte Anderson," Olsen told the Star-Telegram in an email. "My daughter adores Ms. Bailey and misses her so much, and I know she's not the only student who feels this way. I hope that she is able to do so and that the District takes quick action to rectify this situation and ensure nothing like this will happen to another teacher ever again. "
In April, Bailey wrote a letter to the district, asking to be reinstated to Charlotte Anderson, and on April 24, the school district renewed her contract. But on May 1, Bailey was informed by Superintendent Jim Vaszauskas that she would be transferred to a secondary school instead of going back to Charlotte Anderson.
"The families there have been very supportive," she wrote in her letter. "I enjoy working with my colleagues there. I have done nothing improper. If the district were to transfer me to another school, it would leave my career with a stigma I could not escape."