Last month, the anti-LGBTQ Religious Right organization Liberty Counsel issued a press release claiming that a math teacher at Riverview High School in Riverview, Florida, was “engaging in outrageous LGBT political activism in her classroom, and punishes students who do not agree with her LGBT propaganda.”
Liberty Counsel accused Lora Jane Riedas of relentlessly promoting “a pro-LGBT agenda” and persecuting Christian students in her class by, among other things, allegedly prohibiting them from wearing crosses in her classroom and placing “LGBT rainbow stickers” on their notebooks against their will.
Liberty Counsel dedicated an episode of its “Faith and Family” radio program to attacking Riedas as a “child corruption agent” who had supposedly turned her math class “into a LGBT propaganda bullying class,” claiming that she once gave a student in-school suspension simply for wearing a necklace featuring a small cross or made Christian students stand out in the hall while she mocked them.
Her actions were “morally reprehensible,” Liberty Counsel said as they demanded that she be fired from her position. Their claims were predictably picked up and repeated by a variety of right-wing outlets, prompting school officials to investigate the claims.
Yesterday, the school released the results of its investigation and found Liberty Counsel’s claims to be without merit:
A teacher at Riverview High School who was accused by a conservative organization of banning crosses while advocating for gay rights has been cleared of wrongdoing after a school district investigation.
Lora Jane Riedas, who teaches freshman math and is faculty advisor of Riverview’s Gay Straight Alliance, said she did not allow rosaries, as they are considered gang symbols and not allowed in the school dress code.
She said she did not discuss lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in class. All 10 students interviewed by district investigators backed her up on that point, although some contradicted her on the issue of the crosses.
A letter released by the school examined the allegations made by Liberty Counsel and found no evidence to support any of them:
Dear Ms. Riedas:
On April 20, 2017, the office of Professional Standards (OPS) received information from the Liberty Council that included numerous allegations. The allegations claimed that you:
• Directed a student to remove a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat that he was wearing.
• Interfered with students’ religious expression.
• Placed LGBT stickers on students’ notebooks without their consent.
• Promoted LGBT political activism during instructional time.
• Used your role as the sponsor for Riverview’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) to engage in GLSEN-directed classroom activities.
• Utilized Twitter and Facebook to promote LGBT and GLSEN’s political agenda during the work day.
On April 21, 2017, I met with you and Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, CTA Executive Director, to discuss the allegations and the circumstances that led up to the complaints against you. I informed you that the office of Professional Standards would begin an investigation.
I met with you on Friday, May 5, 2017, to review the findings from the internal investigation.
The investigator asked multiple students if you directed a student to take off his “Make America Great Again” hat. The students agreed that you did, in fact, ask him to remove it. However, they advised that any student wearing a hat in class is required to take it off.
Although a few of the students advised the investigator you asked students to remove their cross necklaces, the majority reported that only students who wore rosary beads were asked to take them off. Subsequently, students advised that you explained that rosary beads were against the school’s dress code policy and may denote gang affiliation.
Additionally, students disclosed that the stickers you placed on their folders did not have LGBT letters on them and every student interviewed advised the investigator you do not promote LGBT issues in class.
You admitted utilizing your personal Twitter and Facebook account, however, you stated it was not during instructional time.
Furthermore, you did not use your role as the R.G.S.A. sponsor to coerce, force, or encourage students to participate in Riverview’s Day of Silence, as verified from the email you sent through Riverview internal. Specifically, you stated, “The students of R.G.S.A., who are sponsoring this event at RHS, thank you in advance for your support.”
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. Although the allegations were not substantiated, I am compelled to remind you to use caution whenever interacting with students. As the sponsor for the R.G.S.A., your role is defined as supervisory only, and I am certain you would not want the public’s perception of you to be otherwise.
The district is committed to the safety and well-being of the students we serve and will continue to embrace diversity, inclusion and acceptance for all.
All of the documents obtained in this investigation will remain in the Office of Professional Standards for the record.
Mary Frances Ledo
General Manager of Professional Standards
Liberty Counsel, of course, is standing by its debunked claims and vowing to continue the fight:
But the Liberty Counsel, which initiated the complaint, didn’t see it that way. The counsel’s founder, Mat Staver, pointed out a paragraph at the end of the letter that warns Riedas to “use caution whenever interacting with students” — a line Riedas described as standard.
Staver also said the fight is not over.
“We’ll be following up with another letter to the school,” he said. “We have other students who have come forth in other classes as well. We’ll likely get that letter out tomorrow, Wednesday the latest.”