The Virginia Supreme Court ruled in favor of an elementary school teacher who was suspended for criticizing the district's proposed transgender policies.
The commonwealth's highest court on Monday rejected Loudoun County Public Schools' appeal to suspend Tanner Cross, a physical education teacher who was placed on administrative leave in May for criticizing the district's proposed policies for transgender students. Cross won a temporary injunction in the state's 12th circuit court in June and subsequently was allowed to return to the classroom.
The district did not make an adequate case for reversing the lower court's June decision, reaffirming Cross's win, the Virginia Supreme Court said Monday.
In its appeal, Loudoun County Public Schools claimed that Cross's religious and speech protections are secondary to students' rights to comfort.
"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," the district claimed.
Virginia governor Ralph Northam (D.) last year approved a measure requiring public schools to create and implement protections for transgender students by the 2021-2022 school year. Pursuant to that law, Loudoun school officials proposed updated guidelines that would allow transgender students to access traditionally sex-discriminated spaces like restrooms and sports teams.
The updated policies, which the school board approved on Aug. 11, also require teachers to call students by selected names and pronouns that align with their "gender identity." Cross spoke out against that provision in a May 25 school board meeting, days before he was suspended.
"I love all of my students, but I would never lie to them regardless of the consequences," Cross said. "I'm a teacher, but I serve God first and I will not affirm 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."
District officials claimed Cross's statement had a "disruptive impact" on the school community.
Alliance Defending Freedom, the conservative legal nonprofit that defended Cross, says teachers should not be forced to comply with such policies.
"Teachers shouldn't be forced to promote ideologies that are harmful to their students and that their beliefs are false, nor should they be silenced for commentating at a public meeting," senior counsel Tyson Langhofer said in a statement on Monday.
Langhofer said Alliance Defending Freedom amended its lawsuit after the district updated its policies for transgender students.
Students in Loudoun County Public Schools, one of the wealthiest districts in the country, returned to the classroom on Aug. 26.