Court reinstates Virginia teacher suspended over transgender pronoun policy
June 4 rally in support of Tanner Cross, Loudoun County, Virginia / Alliance Defending Freedom
Washington D.C., Jun 8, 2021 / 13:56 pm (CNA).
A county court on Tuesday ruled that a Virginia teacher suspended for opposing a school transgender pronoun policy must be reinstated while his case continues.
The Loudoun County Circuit Court ruled that Tanner Cross, a teacher at Leesburg Elementary School, had to be reinstated by Loudoun County Public Schools after he was suspended for speaking out against the school district’s proposed “preferred pronoun” policy. Judge James Plowman, Jr. called the suspension an “unconstitutional action.”
“Nobody should be punished for expressing concern about a proposed government policy, especially when the government invites comment on that policy,” stated Michael Farris, president and CEO of the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented Cross.
“School officials singled out his speech, offered in his private capacity at a public meeting, as ‘disruptive’ and then suspended him for speaking his mind,” Farris said. “That’s neither legal nor constitutional.”
Cross was placed on paid administrative leave by the district on May 27. He had objected to two proposed school policies during a public comment session of a May 25 school board meeting.
The proposed policies would require that students be addressed by their preferred gender pronouns, rather than the pronouns corresponding with their biological sex.
In its decision to suspend Cross, the school district cited “allegations that [Cross] engaged in conduct that had a disruptive impact on the operations of Leesburg Elementary School.” Cross was forbidden from accessing school property and attending school-sponsored events.
The school district cited six emails from five families of students asking that their children not be taught by Cross, as evidence for his disruption to school operations.
Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit on behalf of Cross, saying that the district engaged in “viewpoint-based retaliation” in suspending him. Cross’s opinions were based upon his “sincerely held religious beliefs” about gender, the lawsuit stated.
The court on Tuesday found that, in balancing Cross’ free speech rights with the school board’s claims that his speech was disruptive, Cross’ interests outweighed the board’s. Cross’ “speech and religious content” were “central” to his suspension, the court ruled.
Judge Plowman added that “it is clear the Plaintiff was speaking as a citizen, not in his official capacity,” on a “matter of public concern.”
The court granted Cross a temporary injunction against the school’s action, and required the school to reinstate him and allow him access to school property.
Cross also claimed that five school district employees wished to speak up on the pronoun issue but said they declined to do so, due to the district’s action against him.
The court acknowledged the complaints by the parents about Cross’ comments, but added that given the size of the school, the number of parents’ complaints were “de minimis.” Regarding the school’s May 27 email to parents informing them of Cross’ suspension, Judge Plowman called it “an unnecessary and vindictive act given the end of the school year was so close.”
“Educators are just like everybody else—they have ideas and opinions that they should be free to express,” Farris said on Tuesday. “Advocating for solutions they believe in should not cost them their jobs.”