A Virginia teacher placed on administrative leave in May after saying he wouldn’t address students by their preferred pronouns and names must be reinstated to the school, a judge ruled Tuesday.
Judge James E. Plowman Jr. ruled that Tanner Cross must be allowed to return to his job at Loudon County Public Schools. Plowman ruled the district’s decision to place Cross on administrative leave as “an unconstitutional action … which has silenced others from speaking publicly on the issue.”
The judge also said Cross was speaking as a citizen and not a school employee during work hours, therefore he only spoke as a “matter of public concern.”
Cross, a physical education teacher at Leesburg Elementary School, spoke out against the “Rights of Transgender and Gender-Expansive Students” policy on May 25 at a district board meeting.
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He said the policy would go against his religious beliefs and he was “speaking out of love for those who are suffering from gender dysphoria,” citing a “60 Minutes” episode that featured a segment about young people who identified as transgender individuals, then changed their minds.
“It’s not my intention to hurt anyone, but there are certain truths that we must face when ready,” Cross said at the meeting. “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, it’s lying to my child, it’s abuse to a child and it’s sinning against our God.”
Cross was placed on paid administrative leave two days after the board meeting. On June 1, he sued the district, saying its actions violated his First Amendment rights to free speech and exercise of religion. After his hearing on Friday, a small crowd gathered in support of Cross’ reinstatement.
“When I spoke, I was thinking about my values, my students, my parents and my fellow teachers. The truth is I’m not alone. Many of us are concerned that proposed policies would harm students and require us to violate our beliefs by saying things that are not true,” Cross told supporters on Friday.
Michael Farris, president and CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal group defending Cross, said in a statement he was pleased with the court’s ruling.
“Nobody should be punished for expressing concern about a proposed government policy, especially when the government invites comment on that policy,” Farris said. “Educators are just like everybody else — they have ideas and opinions that they should be free to express. Advocating for solutions they believe in should not cost them their jobs.”
Loudoun County schools spokesman Wayde Byard told the Washington Post on Tuesday that the district “will have no comment” on the ruling.
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