The Supreme Court of Virginia on Tuesday affirmed an injunction reversing the suspension of a Loudoun County teacher who spoke against the school’s gender policy. Tanner Cross, a gym teacher at a Loudoun County Elementary School, criticized a proposed district policy that would ensure equal treatment of transgender students. Cross declared during a May 25, 2021, school board meeting that he would “not affirm that a biological boy can be a girl and vice versa because it is against [his] religion. It’s lying to a child. It’s abuse to a child. And it’s sinning against [his] God.”
School officials received a negative parent comment regarding Cross’ speech and removed him from his post greeting children in the morning on May 26. Later that day, four more parents emailed the school to voice concerns about Cross’ beliefs. On May 27, school officials placed Cross on administrative leave with pay for engaging in conduct “that had a disruptive impact on the operations of Leesburg Elementary.”
The court ruled that Cross’ speech at the meeting was protected under Article I § 12 of Virginia’s constitution because he spoke on an “issue of social, political, or other interest to a community,” and his interest in making public comments outweighed the school board’s “interest in providing effective and efficient services to the public.” The court asserted that several parent emails did not amount to a significant disruption of the school’s operation.
The court cited a US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit case that clarified that the First Amendment “protects rank-and-file employees from discharge for taking a public stand on how the agency should be managed, [but] it does not protect those who act on their views, to the detriment of the agency’s operations.”
The order implies that, should Cross act on his beliefs in a way that does harm students or the school’s operations in the future, the school could rightfully suspend him. Pending further action by Cross or Loundoun County, the school is temporarily enjoined from suspending Cross.