A Northern Virginia school system plans to appeal a judge's order to reinstate a suspended gym teacher who spoke at a school board meeting against a proposal requiring that transgender students be addressed by their preferred pronouns.
WTOP-FM reports that Loudoun County Public Schools said in a statement Friday that it “respectfully disagrees” with the decision and will appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court of Virginia.
“Many students and parents at Leesburg Elementary have expressed fear, hurt and disappointment about coming to school,” the statement said. While it “respects the rights of public-school employees to free speech and free exercise of religion, those rights do not outweigh the rights of students to be educated in a supportive and nurturing environment.”
Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge James Plowman ruled Tuesday that teacher Tanner Cross was exercising his right to free speech when he told the board he could not abide by the proposal based on his religious beliefs. His order required Cross’ immediate reinstatement until a full trial is held.
Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal group, sued the county school board last week and filed for an emergency injunction on behalf of Cross, a teacher at Leesburg Elementary. Cross was suspended after a May 25 school board meeting where he said that he could not abide by proposed rules that would require teachers to address transgender students by their chosen gender.
“I’m a teacher, but I serve God first. And I will not affirm that a biological boy can be a girl and vice versa because it is against my religion. It’s lying to a child. It’s abuse to a child,” Cross said at the hearing.
The school board is considering the new regulations in conjunction with a state mandate requiring all school systems to update their policies on transgender students. The model regulations circulated by the state include a requirement that students be addressed by their preferred pronouns.
The state law gives the school board no leeway on implementing the policy and existing school board regulations already prohibit discrimination based on gender identity, which includes referring to transgender children by their preferred pronoun, according to Stacy Haney, a lawyer representing the school system. That means Cross was articulating a defiance to follow existing school policies, she said.
The school system also argued Cross was suspended because his remarks caused a disruption at the school, not expressing his beliefs.
A disruption of that magnitude didn't justify punishing a teacher for exercising his free speech rights, Cross’ lawyer, Tyson Langhofer of the ADF, argued last week. Plowman agreed.
The opinion was a “well-reasoned application of these facts to clearly established law, “ Langhofer said in a statement.
“We are confident that, if the Virginia Supreme Court hears the appeal, it will affirm the circuit court’s decision,” Langhofer said.