Reported By Michael Gryboski, Christian Post Reporter | Wednesday, June 16, 2021
A public school district in Virginia that was ordered to reinstate a teacher punished for criticizing a proposed policy to require teachers to use trans-identified students’ preferred pronouns says it will appeal the decision to the state’s supreme court. Last week, a judge told the Loudon County School Board to reinstate Byron Tanner Cross, a physical education teacher at Leesburg Elementary School placed on administrative leave.
In a statement last Friday, Loudoun County Public Schools said that it will file an appeal of the June 8 decision, claiming that Cross’ comments were harmful. “LCPS respectfully disagrees with the Circuit Court’s decision to issue the injunction, and it is appealing this ruling to the Supreme Court of Virginia,” stated LCPS.
“Many students and parents at Leesburg Elementary have expressed fear, hurt and disappointment about coming to school. Addressing those concerns is paramount to the school division’s goal to provide a safe, welcoming and affirming learning environment for all students.”
The school district went on to state that while they respect “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.”
In May, LCPS held a meeting to discuss a proposed policy that would require students and faculty alike to use the preferred pronouns of youths who identify as transgender or “gender-expansive.”
Cross attended the meeting and spoke out against the proposal, telling the school board that he was “speaking out of love for those who suffer with gender dysphoria.”
“I love all of my students, but I will never lie to them regardless of the consequences. 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’s against my religion,” stated Cross at the meeting.
Two days after the meeting, Cross was put on administrative leave with pay and prohibited from going onto any school properties unless given permission. In response, Cross filed a complaint against LCPS and was represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal nonprofit that handles religious liberty cases and has won several U.S. Supreme Court cases in recent years. ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer said in a statement that he believes public schools cannot “suspend someone simply for respectfully providing their opinion at a public meeting.”
“The school district favors a certain set of beliefs on a hotly contested issue, and it wants to force Tanner to cry uncle and endorse them as well,” stated Langhofer. “That’s neither legal nor constitutional, and neither was the school’s move to place Tanner on leave.”
Last week, Judge James E. Plowman of the 20th Judicial Circuit of Virginia granted Cross’ request for a temporary injunction against the board’s decision to place the teacher on leave. Plowman concluded that punishing Cross was “extreme” and “an unconstitutional action” since the views of the teacher, even if controversial, were nevertheless “permissible.”
“The Court agrees with Plaintiff’s analysis and concludes that Defendants’ actions to suspend the Plaintiff, as well as the additional restrictions placed upon him, adversely affected his constitutionally protected speech,” wrote the judge.
“Here, it was clear that the Plaintiff was speaking as a citizen, not in his official capacity. His speech was not conducted at his usual place of employment, occurred during non-working hours and at a forum where public comment was invited.”