SPOTSYLVANIA, Va. — In an important victory for the right to free speech and for science, Circuit Court Judge James Plowman ordered Loudoun County Public Schools officials on June 8 to reinstate physical education teacher Byron Tanner Cross to his job. Cross, an elementary school gym teacher, had been suspended less than 48 hours after speaking at a public school board meeting against a proposed policy that would require school employees to address students with their chosen pronouns as well as to guarantee them access to restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their “gender identity” rather than their biological sex.
“I will not affirm that a biological boy can be a girl and vice versa because it’s against my religion,” Cross told the county’s school board. “It’s lying to a child; it’s abuse to a child.”
After being suspended and barred from Leesburg Elementary School grounds, Cross filed a civil suit against the county school system. “Public schools have no right to suspend someone simply for respectfully providing their opinion at a public meeting,” argued Tyson Langhofer, one of Cross’ lawyers, in a statement. “The school district wants to force Tanner to endorse its ideals and shut down any opposing views. That violates the Constitution and laws of Virginia, and so did the school’s move to place Tanner on leave.”
In his ruling reinstating Cross, the judge wrote: “Plaintiff has been suspended due to his speech, barred from further speech, and similarly situated employees have been chilled from speech because of Defendants’ actions.” The judge issued a temporary injunction until a full trial can be held on the suit in the fall.
A spokesman for Loudoun County Public Schools said the district plans to appeal this decision to the Virginia Supreme Court. “Many students and parents at Leesburg Elementary have expressed fear, hurt and disappointment about coming to school,” school system officials claimed in a public statement in response to having to reinstate Cross. “Addressing those concerns is paramount to the school division’s goal to provide a safe, welcoming and affirming learning environment for all students. While LCPS respects the rights of public-school employees to free speech and free exercise of religion, those rights do not outweigh the rights of students to be educated in a supportive and nurturing environment.”
After several contentious school board meetings, where many parents tried to get their point of view heard, the Loudoun County School Board voted 7-2 Aug. 11 to adopt Policy 8040, allowing transgender students to use school locker rooms and bathrooms and to participate in sports based on their “gender identity.”
Loudoun County is in suburban Virginia close to Washington, D.C. Forbes magazine ranks it as the wealthiest county in the state.
In a related development, the Loudoun Education Association, the county’s teachers’ union, last fall objected to a proposed “speech code” policy that the school system was considering adopting that would have forbidden school employees from criticizing the teaching of “critical race theory.” This curriculum claims racism is inherent to all Caucasians and is the dominant factor in U.S. history. It denies teaching that a mighty proletarian movement led by Blacks overthrew Jim Crow segregation and transformed social relations and working-class unity in the U.S.
After the teachers’ union publicized its objections, the school board said it would revise its speech code proposals, but to date no change has been made.