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A Virginia judge has ordered the Loudoun County Public Schools system to reinstate a physical education teacher who refuses to address transgender students using the names and pronouns they prefer.
In a seven-page ruling issued Tuesday, 20th Circuit Judge James Plowman Jr. ruled that LCPS’s decision to suspend Tanner Cross, a physical education teacher at Leesburg Elementary School, and bar him from speaking at school board meetings, was unconstitutional, claiming that the district’s actions “silenced others from speaking publicly on the issue [of transgenderism].”
On May 27, school officials placed Cross on paid administrative leave and barred him from Leesburg Elementary’s campus after he declared his opposition to a draft proposal that would require teachers to call transgender students by the pronouns and names they use.
Cross spoke at a school board meeting last month, saying that he would never “affirm that a biological boy can be a girl, and vice versa.” He also alleged, during his speech, that some people who begin transitioning later regret their choice, citing a recent 60 Minutes segment on transgender health care that has been harshly criticized by LGBTQ advocates for its alleged anti-transgender biases.
Cross has cited his Christian faith as justification for his actions, saying his determination to always tell the truth means he cannot use a transgender child’s name or pronouns if they do not match their assigned sex at birth.
Following his suspension, Cross sued the school system’s top administrators, claiming their actions violated his right to free speech and free exercise of religion. He requested a preliminary injunction that would force his reinstatement and allow him to return to campus and attend school board meetings. Plowman granted that injunction, ordering the school system to “immediately reinstate” Cross while the lawsuit moves forward on its merits.
Plowman also disputed claims from lawyers representing LCPS that Cross’s speech at the school board meeting has caused “disruption to school operations,” writing that the decision to suspend the physical education teachers seemed “an unnecessary and vindictive act given the end of the school year was so close,” reports The Washington Post.
Loudoun County Public Schools spokesman Wayde Byard declined comment on the judge’s ruling.
Plowman’s decision was hailed by the right-wing legal firm Alliance Defending Freedom, which has become known best for taking on cases that oppose expansions of LGBTQ rights, often on the grounds that recognizing or celebrating a person’s LGBTQ status violates their clients’ right to religious freedom. In a statement, Michael Farris, the president and chief executive of Alliance Defending Freedom cast Cross’s lawsuit as necessary to defend free speech.
“Educators are just like everybody else — they have ideas and opinions that they should be free to express,” Farris said. “Advocating for solutions they believe in should not cost them their jobs.”
In his lawsuit, Cross states that he “does not believe that every student or teacher in [Loudoun County] should have to accept his view” of transgenderism. But he also believes that “teachers should not be compelled to say things that they do not believe to be true.”
A small group of parents held a rally supporting Cross last weekend, and Plowman’s decision has been praised as a “win for religious freedom” by Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin. Supporters and detractors of Cross also clashed at a recent school board meeting, with supporters criticizing the school system for infringing on Cross’s First Amendment rights.
The Cross case — as well as the ongoing debate over LCPS’s proposed transgender policy — comes at a time when the school system is currently under scrutiny for allegedly teaching “critical race theory,” an academic framework based on the belief that racism is a fundamental part of American society. School officials, including interim Superintendent Scott Ziegler, have denied that critical race theory is being taught in classrooms.
Stemming from those accusations is a lawsuit filed against LCPS over its equity programs, specifically its “Student Equity Ambassador Program” and its “Bias Reporting System,” which encourage students to observe and discuss incidents of racist behavior in their school communities.
A group of conservative parents claims the district’s equity programs are unconstitutional and “chill” the free speech of students who are afraid of being labeled as racist or bigoted. The lawsuit also claims that the ambassador program discriminates against white and conservative students, accusing school officials of selecting only students of color or those with a passion for “social justice,” reports WTOP.
On top of the two lawsuits and accusations of teaching “critical race theory,” disgruntled parents have mounted recall efforts against six school board members who they claim are pushing to incorporate critical race theory into the classroom. The group behind the recall, Fight for Schools, also claims the six board members were part of a private Facebook group in which other group members discussed targeting parents who opposed the teaching of critical race theory in schools.
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