A judge has ordered a Virginia school district to reinstate an elementary school teacher who was placed on leave after criticizing a proposed policy that would require him and other teachers to use the preferred names and pronouns of trans-identified students.
Byron Tanner Cross, a physical education teacher at Leesburg Elementary School, was put on administrative leave not long after he expressed his opposition to the proposed pronoun policy at a Loudon County School Board meeting in May.
In an order released Tuesday, Judge James E. Plowman of the 20th Judicial Circuit of Virginia granted Cross' request for a temporary injunction against the school board's decision to place him on leave, which will expire in December.
Plowman wrote that putting Cross on leave was “extreme” and “an unconstitutional action” since the teacher’s words, 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.”
Alliance Defending Freedom President and CEO Michael Farris, whose legal nonprofit is representing Cross, said in a statement that he is “pleased at the court’s decision to halt Loudoun County Public Schools’ retaliation against Tanner Cross while his lawsuit continues.”
“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,” stated Farris.
“Dozens of other teachers have shared their beliefs on various policies without retaliation; Tanner deserves to be treated with the same respect.”
On May 25, the Loudon County School Board held a meeting to debate a proposed policy, known as Policy 8040, that would require staff and students to use the chosen pronouns of students who identify as transgender or “gender-expansive.”
“LCPS staff shall allow gender-expansive or transgender students to use their chosen name and gender pronouns that reflect their gender identity without any substantiating evidence, regardless of the name and gender recorded in the student’s permanent educational record,” a draft of the policy explains.
“Inadvertent slips in the use of names or pronouns may occur; however, staff or students who intentionally and persistently refuse to respect a student’s gender identity by using the wrong name and gender pronoun are in violation of this policy.”
At the meeting, Cross argued that as a Christian, he is unable to “affirm that a biological boy can be a girl and vice versa.”
“My name is Tanner Cross, and I am speaking out of love for those who suffer with gender dysphoria,” stated Cross. “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," he added.
Two days after the meeting, Cross was placed on administrative leave with pay "pending an investigation of allegations that [he] engaged in conduct that had a disruptive impact on the operations of Leesburg Elementary School.”
Cross was prohibited from entering the property of Loudon County Public Schools for any event unless permitted to do so.
In response, Cross filed a lawsuit against the school board and other school district officials, accusing them of engaging in “viewpoint-based retaliation.”
“… this case is not about how schools should treat students who struggle with gender dysphoria,” stated the legal filing.
“It is about whether public schools can punish a teacher for objecting, as a private citizen, to a proposed policy, in a forum designated for the purpose of considering whether to implement such policies, where the policy would force him to express ideas about human nature, unrelated to the school’s curriculum, that he believes are false.”