Students at a public high school have demonstrated their support for a Christian teacher fired from his position because he refused to refer to a trans-identified student by their preferred pronoun.
Less than 24 hours after the West Point, Virginia school board unanimously voted to terminate high school French instructor Peter Vlaming, a large group of students walked out of their classes to protest the decision.
“He's an amazing man,” student Wyatt Pedersen told WWBT News. “I think he really was going with what he believed was right and it's really unfair that he’s being punished for that, especially in such a dramatic way.”
“I feel like everyone should have the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion as well,” said Junior Zachary Gonzalez.
Forrest Rohde, the West Point High School junior who organized the walkout, emphasized that the protest was not about the transgender student. Rather, he said students took issue with the school board “trying to force the teacher to conform to their ideologies with the threat of removal from the school.”
“The child is going through a lot,” Rohde said. “We shouldn’t be directing this towards her, we should be directing this towards the school board.”
Following a brief suspension, Vlaming was fired after the school board accused him of engaging in “discrimination” and contributing to a “hostile learning environment.”
The teacher explained that while he agreed to use the student's chosen name, he drew the line at pronouns, as doing so violated his conscience.
“I won't use male pronouns with a female student that now identifies as a male though I did agree to use the new masculine name but avoid female pronouns,” said Vlaming in response to the suspension.
“Administration is requiring that I use masculine pronouns in any and every context at school. I was informed that any further instances of using female pronouns would be grounds for termination.”
Meanwhile, a GoFundMe page set up to help Vlaming cover legal fees and provide for his family has raised over $20,000 as of Wednesday afternoon. With four children under the age of 10, Vlaming, who had taught at West Point for seven years, was the only source of income for his family, the page notes.
Wrote one supporter: “Our prayers are with you and your family. Thank you for standing up for your beliefs; God will have the victory!”
“A teacher that has the support of his students deserves to be supported by everyone,” added another.
Vlaming’s attorney, Shawn Voyles, maintained that the school system was not respecting the constitutional rights of his client, but praised West Point for permitting students to participate in the walkout.
“We are glad to see that West Point Public Schools permitted this peaceful protest today,” Voyles said. “That was not the case in November when the students began circulating a petition to return my client to his job.
As a student testified at the hearing yesterday, the high school principal actually confiscated the petition. It unfortunately took a threat of legal action by a student to have it returned.”
Voyles said he is considering how to proceed, including a possible appeal with the circuit court, adding that tolerance should be a “two-way street.”
“Unfortunately, tolerance on the part of the school division has been noticeably absent,” he said. “It chose to impose its own orthodoxy on Mr. Vlaming and fired him because he didn't relinquish his rights protected by the First Amendment.”