The case of an elementary school teacher receiving a suspension for comments made on a proposed rule on using a student’s preferred pronouns during a Loudoun County, Virginia, school board meeting heads to the state’s Supreme Court.
Lawyers representing Byron Tanner Cross filed a brief with Virginia’s Supreme Court after Loudoun County Public Schools appealed a lower court’s ruling that suspending the physical education teacher for comments made during a board meeting was unconstitutional.
In the brief, attorney Tyson Langhofer said that the trail court was correct in restating Cross as his comments to the school board in May on a proposed policy on using a student’s preferred pronouns was made in a public meeting.
Because Loudoun County schools identified “no legal error in the decision,” Langhofer wrote the petition should be denied and Cross should be allowed to start teaching again.
“The lower court’s decision ordering Tanner’s reinstatement was a well-reasoned application of these facts to clearly established law, so there is no reason for the Virginia Supreme Court to take this appeal,” Langhofer said in a statement.
The Leesburg Elementary School teacher told the county’s school board in May during an open comment session that the use of preferred gender pronouns for transgender students was against his religion. Cross was was put on paid administrative leave following his comments.
“I’m a teacher, but I serve God first,” Cross said. “I 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.”
Cross sued the school district, calling the board’s actions retaliatory and a violation of his constitutional right to freedom of speech and religion.
During the trial in Loudoun County Circuit Court, lawyers for the school system said Cross was not being disciplined for what he said, but that his comments had been disruptive. They said several parents complained. Cross’ lawyers countered that the day after his comments, he conducted class without disruption, and that parents’ complaints were out of the school’s community.
Ultimately, Loudoun County Circuit Judge James Plowman sided with Cross, stating that the school system’s handling of the situation was “extreme” and “vindictive.” Loudoun County schools said it would appeal the ruling three days later.
WTOP’s José Umaña contributed to this report.