2 teachers look to join lawsuit against Loudoun Co. schools transgender policy

Two Loudoun County, Virginia, teachers are asking a circuit court judge for permission to join a lawsuit seeking to stop the school board’s new transgender policy from going into effect.

On Monday, Loudoun County High School history teacher Monica Gill and Smart’s Mill Middle School English teacher Kim Wright asked to be added to a suit against the school board, which approved the policy earlier this month.

It requires students and teachers to address students by their chosen pronoun, regardless of the students’ biological gender. It also allows transgender student athletes to participate on teams based on their gender identity.

Transgender students would use bathrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity. Critics say the policy forces students and teachers to violate their beliefs.

The school board was reviewing its policies in conjunction with a state mandate requiring all school systems to update their policies on transgender students. The model regulations circulated by the state include a requirement that students be addressed by their preferred pronouns.

In June, the Alliance Defending Freedom sued the school board on behalf of Leesburg Elementary School gym teacher Byron “Tanner” Cross.

Cross was placed on paid administrative leave after criticizing the proposed policy during the May 25 school board meeting’s public comment period. He said it violated his religious principles.

“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.”

Lawyers for the school system argued that Cross was not being disciplined for what he said, but because his comments were disruptive. They said several parents complained.

But Cross said the day after he spoke, he conducted class without disruption.

He sued the school district, calling the board’s actions retaliatory and claiming they were a violation of his constitutional rights to freedom of speech and religion.

He was reinstated after Loudoun County Circuit Judge James Plowman ruled the suspension was likely unconstitutional. In his ruling, Plowman called the school system’s handling of the situation “extreme” and “vindictive.”

But school officials appealed Plowman’s ruling to the Virginia Supreme Court, which has not yet made a decision on the appeal. While that appeal is pending, Cross’ case in the trial court is moving forward. It will be heard early next month in Loudoun County Circuit Court.

Soon after Cross was suspended, the ADF said “public schools have no business compelling teachers to express ideological beliefs that they don’t hold.”

The organization, which describes itself as a nonprofit legal organization “committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights and the sanctity of life,” said that it’s about more than pronoun use.

In its view, Loudoun County schools favor certain beliefs, and the school system wants to “force Tanner to cry uncle and endorse them as well.”

The ADF said these actions were neither legal nor constitutional, and neither was the school’s move to place Tanner on leave.

When announcing Gill and Wright’s request to join the suit, the ADF hit on the same points.

In a statement, it said that “public employees cannot be forced to contradict their core beliefs just to keep a job. Freedom — of speech and religious exercise — includes the freedom not to speak messages against our core beliefs.”

The organization also pushed back against the belief in gender identity in its statement. The ADF said the idea that a “woman who identifies as a man really is a man, and vice versa” is false.

It continued by saying that allowing teachers to refer to students by their biological sex gives them the freedom to communicate what they believe.

ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer said Loudoun County’s school board is taking sides in a national debate “over competing views of human nature and compelled conformity to, and support for, only one view.

He also said that “teachers shouldn’t be forced to promote ideologies that are harmful to their students and that they believe are false.”

The lawsuit asks a Loudoun County Circuit Court judge to stop enforcement of the policy while the case moves through the legal system.

Chris Cruise

Christopher Cruise is a writer, reporter and anchor at WTOP. He has worked at The Voice of America, where he anchored newscasts for the Learning English branch. He is a backup host for Westwood’s morning radio news programs, “America in the Morning” and “First Light,” and contributes to them weekly.

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