Mon. Jul 26th, 2021

Whether a Loudoun Circuit Court judge was correct in ordering the reinstatement of a Leesburg Elementary School physical education teacher is now before the state Supreme Court.

The school division has appealed Judge James Plowman’s decision to reinstate Tanner Cross to his teaching position after Cross was placed on administrative leave following his public comments that, because of his religious beliefs, he would not follow the district’s proposed protections for transgender students.

The division’s attorneys are arguing that Cross’ “right to free speech and exercise of religion do not outweigh the School Board’s right to protect students from discrimination.”

Cross made his comments during a School Board meeting in May, speaking against proposed Policy 8040, which is intended to implement a new state mandate to protect the rights of transgender and gender expansive students.

“I’m 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 is against my religion. It’s lying to a child. It’s abuse to a child,” Cross said during the May 25 School Board meeting.

Two days later, Cross was placed on paid administrative leave.In its appeal, the district claimed that at least five parents requested that their children be removed from Cross’ class following his remarks.

Cross is represented by the conservative Christian group, Alliance Defending Freedom. ADF filed for an emergency injunction for Cross to be reinstated to his position, arguing that the division violated Cross’ First Amendment rights.

Plowman granted the injunction, ruling that the School Board took unconstitutional action and, in doing so, silenced others from speaking out about the issue.

In the appeal to the Supreme Court, the school system’s attorney Stacy L. Haney claims that Plowman erred in concluding that Cross was likely to succeed in his civil suit seeking reinstatement. The appeal asserts that Plowman wrongly concluded that Cross would suffer irreparable harm without a temporary injunction, and failed to consider the totality of the circumstances involved with the case, including “the School Board’s interests in protecting the wellbeing of students and preventing unlawful discrimination.”

In a response to the district’s appeal, ADF filed a brief arguing that Cross’ constitutional rights were violated.

“We argue that the lower court was correct to vindicate Tanner’s free speech rights and reinstate him to his position while the case continues,” said an ADF spokesperson.

Conservative parents in the county and national activists have swarmed to show support for Cross. Opposition to the proposed Policy 8040 has been a tentpole of the movement to recall the School Board.

The School Board is required by state law to implement the policy before the start of the 2021-2022 school year, and will vote on the policy during its Aug. 10 meeting.

A hearing date for the district’s appeal has not yet been scheduled.