The legal battle persists between Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) and a teacher who was suspended for opposing the school district’s policy about transgender pronouns, as opposing sides argue over whether the Virginia Supreme Court should revisit the case.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a conservative legal group representing the teacher, Byron “Tanner” Cross, said it is asking the state Supreme Court to reject an appeal from the school district, which seeks to repeal a lower court’s injunction mandating that Cross be reinstated to his teaching position.
Cross, who teaches physical education at Leesburg Elementary School, was placed on leave in May after he spoke out against a proposed rule that would require teachers and staff to address students by their preferred gender-identity pronouns. He addressed LCPS school board during a public meeting in which the proposal was discussed, saying he “will not affirm that a biological boy can be a girl, and vice versa,” because that would violate his Christian beliefs.
“I love all of my students but I will never lie to them regardless of the consequences,” Cross had said. “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.”
Cross sued the LCPS following his suspension, and a Virginia judge in June sided with him, ordering his immediate reinstatement until a full trial can be held. The school district, in response, appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court, citing five parents’ complaints as evidence of “anticipated and actual disruption” allegedly cause by Cross’s comments.
“Many students and parents at Leesburg Elementary have expressed fear, hurt, and disappointment about coming to school,” the school district said in a statement. “While LCPS 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.”
In an opposing brief filed last week, the ADF argued that the district’s claim is invalid, and that the Virginia Supreme Court should reject the petition.
“Petitioners violated the First Amendment because Tanner spoke as a private citizen, on his own time, on a matter of significant public concern,” the brief reads. “And his speech did not cause a substantial disruption: Petitioners pointed only to their own decision reassigning Tanner from one minor duty out of unsubstantiated fear of a confrontation, and five parents’ email complaints, in a school of nearly 400 students, about Tanner’s speech.”
Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom, said in a press release that there is no reason for the Virginia Supreme Court to take this appeal, calling the lower court decision “well-reasoned.”
“Public schools have no right to suspend someone simply for respectfully providing their opinion at a public meeting,” Langhofer said. “The school district wants to force Tanner to endorse its ideals and shut down any opposing views. That violates the Constitution and laws of Virginia, and so did the school’s move to place Tanner on leave.”
The case is expected go to trial in the Circuit Court this fall, regardless of what the Virginia Supreme Court decides on the petition.