Teacher Placed on Leave for Opposing Transgender School Policy: 'First Amendment is on Our Side'

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Posted: Jul 11, 2021 8:00 AM

The Loudon County school district has stayed true to its word and is appealing a Circuit Court decision to reinstate Tanner Cross, an elementary school gym teacher who was placed on leave after objecting to the district's policy that transgender students be referred to by their proper pronouns. Cross was speaking during the public comment period of a May 25 school board meeting. 

"It’s not my intention to hurt anyone, but there are certain truths that we must face when ready. We condemn school policies [that] would damage children, defile the holy image of God. I love all of my students, but I will never lie to them regardless of the consequences. I am a teacher, but I serve God first and 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 its sinning against our God," Cross had said during that meeting.

Cross told Townhall that this is his third year teaching at Leesburg Elementary School and eighth in the county overall. He's otherwise had "great relationships" he said, and "almost stellar evaluations."

On June 30, Cross' attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom filed a reply brief with the Virginia Supreme Court, explaining "The trial court correctly determined that Tanner is likely to succeed on the merits of his claim." 

The lower court had found that the school's actions were likely unconstitutional. This, according to this reply brief,had to do with how "The trial court correctly found that Tanner’s strong interest in speaking outweighed any of Petitioners’ claimed interests in punishing him for his speech" and because "The trial court acted within its discretion in finding insufficient evidence of future disruption to outweigh Tanner’s strong interest in speaking."

Cross and his attorney, Tyson C. Langhofer, spoke further with Townhall about the case, emphasizing the importance of a teacher's First Amendment rights.

"I encourage any teacher, any parent that's concerned about their students or concerned about their child, their child's education to go express and use their First Amendment Right to school boards all across the nation" to "very simply voice their opinion on proposed policies or even policies that are in place that are harmful against their children," Cross said. 

Langhofer also weighed in, emphasizing that "no teacher should ever be punished for advocating for the good of their students, especially when it's in a public forum in response towards an invitation to comment on proposed policies."

Cross' circumstances are not occurring in a vacuum. This is the same Loudon County School District which has made national news for parental opposition to Critical Race Theory, in addition to proposed policies over transgender students. As Langhofer pointed out, a recent school board meeting also included comments from parents speaking in support of Cross being able to voice his opinion without being punished for it. 

Langhofer offered that "these issues being raised in Loudon County are part of a larger debate that's going on throughout our country" by "outside third parties who have an agenda who are trying to impose very ideologically divisive curriculum and policies."

He went on to mention that what's being seen at Loudon County is "a reaction to that by parents and teachers who disagree with these policies, who believe they are going to be harmful to students, also violate teacher's rights, and they feel like their voices are not being heard by the school board," which "is not only ignoring their voices, but then retaliating against people who speak out like Tanner." 

When it comes to Cross, Langhofer offered that "Tanner's case is a reflection of this growing discomfort with the things that are being pushed at the school board level, and primarily these are being done by outside parties that are trying to voice these bad ideologies on unwilling participants."

Critical race theory is also a forefront issue of this year's gubernatorial race in Virginia. Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe has dismissed CRT as a "right-wing conspiracy." Glenn Youngkin, however, the Republican candidate, spoke outside the Loudoun Public Schools Administration Building on June 30, the same day ADF filed their reply brief with the Virginia Supreme Court. 

While outside the building, Youngkin revealed part of what his education plan would be as governor, which involves signing an executive order to ban CRT at school.

Youngkin had also voiced support for Cross being reinstated and his constitutional rights during a Fox News appearance on May 31, shortly after the teacher was placed on leave.

Langhofer affirmed that in his client's case, especially, it's "absolutely a non-partisan issue" to stand up for First Amendment rights that teachers have. That Cross could ultimately be fired over his comments, Langhofer said is "a very dangerous policy that would essentially strip teachers of their First Amendment rights and would prevent them from being able to participate in the political process, alongside all the other citizens."

The appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court is a discretionary one, and Langhofer said he anticipates an answer whether they'll accept or not within 30 days. When it comes to the trial court, September 7 and 8 have been set as the trial dates, since the order was merely temporary.

When asked what final message he wanted to leave readers with, Cross reaffirmed the importance of First Amendment rights, as well as encouraging teachers to stand up for these rights and "to stand up for their students, for the protection of them and the protection of other teachers as well," he said. "If they're quiet, if we don't express our First Amendment rights, we can lose that." Cross remains hopeful in the Virginia constitution, as well as that "the law and the First Amendment is on our side."