The Virginia Supreme Court this week upheld a ruling requiring Loudoun County Public Schools to temporarily reinstate a gym teacher who was suspended after speaking out about a proposed policy requiring staff to use transgender students’ chosen pronouns.
The high court on Monday affirmed a circuit court ruling that Byron Tanner Cross’ public comments did not cause a “significant disruption” to school operations that would warrant his suspension.
“The only disruption the defendants can point to is that a tiny minority of parents requested that Cross not interact with their children,” the 14-page ruling states.
Monday’s ruling stems from a lawsuit filed in June by Mr. Cross, who was placed on paid administrative leave days after he spoke at a Loudoun County Public Schools board meeting about how the then-proposed policy would violate his religious beliefs.
Mr. Cross, a Christian, said during the public comment period that he “will not affirm that a biological boy can be a girl and vice versa because it’s against my religion, it’s lying to a child, it’s abuse to a child and it’s sinning against our God.”
The gym teacher also said he believes letting children transition genders could harm their physical or mental well-being.
The state Supreme Court said the school incorrectly minimized his interest in making the public comments which “are a matter of obvious and significant interest to Cross as a teacher and to the general public.”
“Cross was opposing a policy that might burden his freedoms of expression and religion by requiring him to speak and interact with students in a way that affirms gender transition, a concept he rejects for secular and spiritual reasons,” the ruling states.
Although Loudoun school officials may have seen it as “a trifling and annoying instance of individual’s distasteful abuse of a privilege,” the court believes he has a strong claim that “his public dissent implicates ‘fundamental societal values’ deeply embedded in our Constitutional Republic.”
The decision requires the school district to allow Mr. Cross to keep teaching while the legal battle plays out.
Earlier this month, the school board voted 7-2 to approve the policy at issue, which prompted two other teachers to join Mr. Cross’ suit. They are represented by Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal group.
The trio filed an amended complaint on Aug. 16 seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to block the district from enforcing part of the “Rights of Transgender and Gender-Expansive Students” policy. They say it violates their constitutional rights to free exercise of religion and free speech.
The educators specifically take issue with a provision that states “staff shall allow gender-expansive or transgender students to use their chosen name and gender pronouns that reflect their consistently asserted gender identity without any substantiating evidence, regardless of the name and gender recorded in the student’s permanent educational record.”
The amended complaint states that if the teachers are forced to comply, they would have to “communicate a message they believe is false — that gender identity, rather than biological reality, fundamentally shapes and defines who we truly are as humans, that our sex can change, and that a woman who identifies as a man really is a man, and vice versa.”