A CHRISTIAN school worker is to challenge a Gloucestershire school academy’s decision to dismiss her for gross misconduct. She was dismissed after she shared with friends two Facebook posts that raised concerns about Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) at another school in the same village – her own child’s Church of England primary school.
Kristie Higgs, aged 43, a mother of two children, has been working at the academy – Farmor’s School in Fairford, Gloucestershire – for the past six years as a pastoral assistant with an exemplary record. Yet, after one anonymous person saw two of Kristie’s personal Facebook posts, which shared concerns about sex education lessons at her own child’s primary school, she was reported to the academy headteacher with a claim that her posts were ‘homophobic and prejudiced to the LGBT community’. Even though the posts were only visible to her friends, Mrs Higgs was subsequently sacked.
Mrs Higgs was told at a hearing that, for holding and sharing her views, she “may exert influence over vulnerable pupils who may end up in isolation” and was therefore deemed no longer suitable to work with children.
Two Facebook posts
With reference to her child’s primary school, Kristie Higgs, using her personal Facebook account under her maiden name, had shared two posts. The first began with her writing in capital letters: ‘Please read this they are brainwashing our children!’ “Please sign this petition, they have already started to brainwash our innocent wonderfully created children and it’s happening in our local primary school now.” The rest of the post, written by another mother, highlighted that a government consultation on proposals to make RSE mandatory for children as young as four was coming to a close, and urged its readers to sign a nationwide petition calling on the government to uphold the rights of parents to have children educated in line with their religious beliefs.
The petition, subsequently signed by over 115,000 people, was debated in parliament, ironically under a government protocol for freedom of speech and for fostering closer links between public concerns and parliament in an open democracy. This mother wrote conveying that she felt that some aspects of the proposed RSE syllabus, especially children’s books with transgender themes, were not right for pupils at her own child’s Church of England primary school, and she wanted other parents to be able to make informed decisions. Mrs Higgs shared this in her post.
In the second post, Mrs Higgs shared an article from Judybeth.com on the rise of transgender ideology in children’s books in American schools and added her own comment: ‘This is happening in our primary schools now’.
These posts, sharing with friends her concern for her child’s primary school, were reported to the academy where Mrs Higgs was working. The person who reported it remains anonymous.
Investigation and dismissal
After an investigation, the academy concluded that Mrs Higgs would be dismissed for: ‘illegal discrimination‘, ‘serious inappropriate use of social media‘, and ‘online comments that could bring the school into disrepute and damage the reputation of the school.’ However, the conclusions by the academy were unfounded.
In the conclusion to Mrs Higgs’ hearing, the academy admitted in writing that: “Regarding bringing the school into disrepute…we agree that there is no direct evidence that as a matter of fact that the reputation of the school has been damaged to date.”
Furthermore, despite the clearly religious context, with one of the Facebook posts specifically mentioning Mrs Higgs’ views on Christian teaching and that ‘freedom of belief would be destroyed’, the academy claimed: “We concluded that no action was taken because of your religion. The disciplinary occurred for reasons other than your religion.”
The academy added: “As an inclusive employer, Farmor’s school recognises and protects the statutory rights of its staff. Such rights however are not absolute and we are concerned that you did not demonstrate an appropriate understanding of the school’s requirement to respect and tolerate the views of others and to role model such behaviour.”
When Mrs Higgs asked whom she had discriminated against, she was told by the academy: “you had not directly discriminated against one person, rather it was about the words you had used that could be perceived as discrimination.”
Mrs Higgs, a member of Fairford Christian Fellowship, has been supported by her pastor, Gregory Husband, in this case and has turned to the Christian Legal Centre for help. She is now taking legal action against the academy for unfair dismissal and discrimination.
Mrs Higgs said: “I have been punished for sharing concerns about Relationships and Sex Education. I hold these views because of my Christian beliefs, beliefs and views which are shared by hundreds of thousands of parents across the UK. My number one concern has always been the effect that learning about sex and gender in school will have on children at such a young age.
“As soon as the investigation into the posts began I was repeatedly told: ‘this is nothing to do with your religion.’ That was clearly a legal tactic and of course it has everything to do with my religion. I am determined to fight this case and to stand for Christians and all parents across the country who are being silenced for sharing and holding these views.”
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “This case is about the freedom to hold Christian views about what it means to be human. Many Christians have faced pressure for expressing these views in the workplace before, but in this case, Kristie has been dismissed for sharing her views among friends on Facebook.
“What Kristie shared on Facebook simply reflects the genuine and justified concerns of a parent about the sexual ideology currently being imposed on her own children and thousands of children across the UK.
“Kristie has not only lost her job, but her whole career is now tarnished with the accusation that for holding these views she is now a danger to vulnerable children. This is despite an exemplary record at the school and in her work with youth in the wider community. If Kristie does not win this case, due to one complaint, she will never be able to work with children again.
“Kristie is a kind, loving and courageous woman, and we will stand side by side with her as she fights for justice.”