Can a Teacher Object to a Proposed School District Policy? Not in Loudoun County

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

Editor’s Note:   On June 9, a Virginia court ordered that Tanner Cross be reinstated.  It was a big win for First Amendment/free speech by the Scottsdale-based Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

Thankfully, Tanner’s stand in court did ultimately pay off. Today, the court ruled that Tanner’s constitutional rights were likely violated and ordered the school to reinstate Tanner while the lawsuit continues:

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Upholding constitutional rights serves the public interest. Affirming the unconstitutional action taken against [Tanner] which has silenced others from speaking publicly on this issue, serves the public interest. The public’s knowledge that [Tanner’s] speech was permissible, is encouraged and is free from governmental oppression serves the public interest. Governmental bodies being held in check for violating a citizen’s constitutional rights, serves the public interest.

With this ruling, the court sent a clear message to the school board: “You are not above the law.”

Teachers have First Amendment rights to express their views along with everyone else, and Loudoun County Public Schools must respect that. In fact, as public officials, those on the school board have a duty to respect that.

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“I expected more from a public school here in the United States, where our right to speak freely is protected under the First Amendment,” Tanner said at the rally.

As he should. We should all expect more of our elected government officials. Thankfully, the court held them to the standard the law requires.

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Imagine you’re at a school board meeting discussing changes to school district policy, and one of the teachers speaks up. He thoughtfully voices some concerns.

How would you react? Even if you disagree, would you appreciate the fact that he is thinking deeply about issues that impact your student? I know I would.

Unfortunately, that’s not what happened when Tanner Cross, an elementary school teacher in Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia, respectfully voiced his objections to two proposed school policies during the public comment period of a school board meeting. He also shared his belief—and the scientific fact—that there are two biological sexes, which can’t be changed.
Less than 48 hours later, Tanner was suspended. Far from appreciating Tanner’s input as an educator, school officials punished him for speaking up.

But it is Tanner’s right—and every American’s right, for that matter—to speak their opinion at a public meeting. And it’s unconstitutional for the school district to punish Tanner for exercising that right.

That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom sent a letter to Loudoun County Public Schools last week on Tanner’s behalf.

In response, the school doubled down, stating that it intends to stand by its decision.

And today ADF filed a lawsuit against school district officials to hold them accountable for their unconstitutional actions.

So, what is so troublesome about these proposed policies?

The policies would force teachers to violate their beliefs by requiring them to address “gender-expansive or transgender students” with their chosen pronouns rather than the ones consistent with their biological sex. In other words, these policies would force teachers to lie to students and embrace an ideology that ultimately could harm them.

And as Dr. Stephen B. Levine, a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, wrote in an expert declaration to the court in a separate ADF case:

Putting a child or adolescent on a pathway towards life as a transgender person puts that individual at risk of a wide range of long-term or even life-long harms, including: sterilization (whether chemical or surgical) and associated regret and sense of loss… physical health risks associated with exposure to elevated levels of cross-sex hormones; surgical complications and life-long after-care; alienation of family relationships; inability to form healthy romantic relationships and attract a desirable mate; elevated mental health risks.

That’s what Loudoun County Public Schools is asking of its teachers: to encourage children to walk down a likely dangerous path of gender confusion.

So, you can understand why Tanner doesn’t feel comfortable with that.

At the school board meeting, Tanner respectfully explained his concern for students who struggle with gender dysphoria but also his concern about being forced to violate his beliefs. As a Christian, he believes that God created two sexes—male and female—and that this biological reality can’t be changed. Tanner also believes it would be harmful to his students to promote an ideology that says otherwise.

The bottom line is that the school district can’t use teachers as a mouthpiece to promote a political agenda that violates their beliefs. But that is exactly what it is trying to do. And when Tanner used his constitutional right to speak up against the policy, officials punished him, propping him up as an example and sending the message that teachers must toe the ideological line or face the consequences.

It must stop.

The debate over the school’s policy is about much more than pronouns. It’s about scientific truth. It’s whether the government can force an individual to endorse an ideology that conflicts with his beliefs.

And Tanner’s case is about something even more important: it’s about whether we have the right to voice dissenting opinions to our elected officials at all. Not everyone will agree with Tanner about what the school’s policy should be. But, in a free society, everyone must have the right to make their case to their elected officials about what the policy should be.

There’s a lot at stake.

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This article was published on June 1, 2021 and is reproduced with permission from the Alliance Defending Freedom, based in Scottsdale, Arizona

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