(The Center Square) – A Virginia teacher who criticized Loudoun County Public School’s new transgender policy before it went into effect will be allowed to continue teaching, at least for now, the state’s Supreme Court ruled.
LCPS originally suspended physical education teacher Tanner Cross after he publicly criticized a proposed transgender policy during a school board meeting. The policy had not been adopted at the time, but has since been approved by the board. Cross sued the school, arguing the suspension violated his right to free speech.
A lower court ruled LCPS must reinstate him as a teacher pending the outcome of the trial, deciding his right to free speech outweighs any disruption he may have caused to school operations. The school’s lawyers argued the free speech protections did not outweigh the students’ protection from discrimination, but the Supreme Court sided with Cross and the lower court.
“Although the Defendants fault the court for not taking adequate account of the need to protect the wellbeing of students and prevent what they term unlawful discrimination, no evidence in the record suggests there is any present threat Cross might be in a position to interact with a transgender student,” the Supreme Court order read. “Because the remaining interests the Defendants raise do not override Cross’ and other teachers’ interests in exercising their constitutionally protected right to speak on the proposed transgender policy, the circuit court did not abuse its discretion.”
The decision only provides temporary injunctive relief, which means the court system will still need to rule on the merits of the free-speech case from Cross. The decision allows him to maintain his teaching position until a court rules on whether the suspension violated Cross’s free speech rights.
Supporters of the LCPS policy argue the policy grants transgender students protection from discrimination, but opponents say it limits parental autonomy and constricts free speech and expression. The provision Cross heavily criticized requires teachers to refer to a transgender student by his or her preferred gender and name in cases in which that does not match the student’s biological gender or given name at birth. The policy also allows transgender students to play on athletic teams based on their preferred gender and use facilities, such as restrooms and changing rooms based on their preferred gender.
Cross is being represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, which is a conservative Christian legal defense fund.
“Teachers shouldn’t be forced to promote ideologies that are harmful to their students and that they believe are false, nor should they be silenced for commenting at a public meeting,” ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofe said in a statement. “The lower court’s decision was a well-reasoned application of the facts to clearly established law, as the Virginia Supreme Court found. But because Loudoun County Public Schools is now requiring all teachers and students to deny truths about what it means to be male and female and compelling them to call students by their chosen pronouns or face punishment, we have moved to amend our lawsuit to challenge that policy on behalf of multiple faculty members. Public employees cannot be forced to contradict their core beliefs just to keep a job.”
The school board’s adoption of the policy led to fierce debate on both sides during the hearing procedures. One teacher, Laura Morris, publicly quit her job while speaking to the board during the hearing and claimed teachers were asked to report anyone who publicly or privately speaks out against the policy.