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Education

Virginia Supreme Court Reinstates Christian Public-School Teacher

Gym teacher Tanner Cross testifies before the school board in Loudoun County, Va., May 25, 2021. (WSLS10/via YouTube)

Earlier this month, I covered a recent decision by the school board in Loudoun County, Va., which enacted a permissive gender-identity policy. The new rules permit students to use restrooms and locker rooms, as well as compete in sports, on the basis of the gender with which they identify rather than their biological sex.

In the debate leading up to the policy’s enactment, a Loudoun County physical-education teacher, Tanner Cross, was suspended from his job at Leesburg Elementary School after publicly disagreeing with aspects of the policy.

The new rules require teachers to use students’ preferred pronouns rather than the pronoun reflecting a student’s sex, without requiring students to offer “any substantiating evidence” of their gender identity. Teachers would not be punished for what are deemed “inadvertent slips” — using a student’s given name or biological pronoun occasionally, by accident — but “intentionally and persistently” doing so would be considered a violation.

At a school-board meeting before the policy was made official, Cross stated that his Christian faith precluded him from deferring to a student’s preferred pronouns, because doing so would constitute a lie about the reality of the child’s identity. After being suspended for sharing this view, Cross sued Loudoun County Public Schools, alleging that the district had violated his free-speech rights.

In a decision yesterday, the Virginia Supreme Court agreed with Cross, upholding an earlier ruling from Virginia circuit-court judge James E. Plowman, who halted the LCPS suspension against Cross. Plowman rejected the school district’s argument that Cross’s suspension was in response not to his remarks but to the disruption Cross’s comments had created and ruled that the district had violated his First Amendment rights.

Tyson Langhofer, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented Cross in his lawsuit, said in a statement after the Virginia Supreme Court ruling that “teachers shouldn’t be forced to promote ideologies that are harmful to their students and that they believe are false, nor should they be silenced for commenting at a public meeting.”

In the wake of the ruling on behalf of Cross, ADF has expanded its lawsuit against LCPS to include challenges from multiple faculty members in the district, because, as Langhofer put it, LCPS “is now requiring all teachers and students to deny truths about what it means to be male and female and compelling them to call students by their chosen pronouns or face punishment.”

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