Public school officials in Loudoun County, Virginia, were warned May 28 to revoke their suspension of a teacher for opposing the use of students’ preferred pronouns, or face further legal action.
Tanner Cross, a teacher at Leesburg Elementary School, was suspended after speaking publicly May 26 during a school board meeting in opposition to the system’s proposed policy that teachers must use the pronouns preferred by students rather than the pronouns consistent with their biological sex.
Cross was informed on May 28 that he was being suspended “pending an investigation of allegation that [he] engaged in conduct that had a disruptive impact on the operations of Leesburg Elementary School.”
On May 28, Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Tyson Langhofer told school officials in a letter that they must either revoke the suspension and excise all records of it from Cross’s personnel file or he will take further legal action.
“The First Amendment prohibits retaliation against public employees for speaking on matters of public concern. ‘A teacher’s exercise of his right to speak on issues of public importance may not furnish the basis for his dismissal from public employment.’ Pickering v. Bd. of Educ. of Twp. High Sch. Dist. 205,391 U.S. 563, 574 (1968),” Langhofer wrote in the letter to school officials.
“Mr. Cross’s expression during public comment time at an open school board meeting was undoubtedly expression in his private capacity on a matter of public concern. Id. (teachers’ public expression regarding school board actions is protected speech); Janus v. Am. Fed’n of State, Cnty. & Mun. Emps., 138 S. Ct. 2448, 2476 (2018) (listing examples of matters of public concern); see also, Meriwether v. Hartop, 992 F.3d 492, 506-07 (6th Cir. 2021) (teachers’ use of pronouns is protected speech on a matter of public concern).
“Immediately suspending an employee and launching an investigation for engaging in First Amendment-protected expression, creates an atmosphere of fear and is intended to send a message to Mr. Cross and other teachers that they must toe the line or face the consequences. … The First Amendment does not countenance such retaliation.
“We demand that you immediately (1) rescind the suspension, (2) reinstate Mr. Cross so that he can return to class on Tuesday, June 1, (3) remove the suspension letter from his file, and (4) refrain from any future retaliation against protected speech.
“Absent the complete revocation of this suspension, Mr. Cross will be forced to pursue other legal options to safeguard his rights.”
A spokesman for the school system couldn’t be reached for comment.
While suspended, Cross is barred from being on school property or participating in any school activities without obtaining prior permission. He’s also required to make himself available to school officials for conversation by telephone or in-person meetings during official business hours.
Loudoun County is one of the nation’s most affluent counties and has been the focus of serious controversies in its education system as officials here have adopted extensive politically correct policies, educational materials, and programs that have sparked major public opposition, including those based on critical race theory (CRT).
However, it was the remote learning the district put in place that allowed parents to learn more about what their children were being taught, which raised some red flags.
“We’re seeing what our kids are learning, and our goal changes from opening schools to ‘Oh, my gosh. What are we sending our children back to?’” one parent, who asked to remain anonymous because of concern about reprisals, told The Epoch Times.
“Basically, they’re categorizing children by race to determine the quality of education each will have, which is absolutely unacceptable,” she said, adding that her children won’t be returning to that school.
Loudoun County Public Schools spokesman Wayde Byard denied that the schools are determining the quality, level, or resources for education based on skin color.
“Our goal is to ensure equity based on this definition as outlined by the Virginia Department of Education: Education Equity is achieved when we eliminate the predictability of student outcomes based on race, gender, zip code, ability, socioeconomic status or languages spoken at home,” he told The Epoch Times in an email.
With reporting by Petr Svab