Circuit Court Asked to Reinstate Suspended Loudoun Teacher

Circuit Court Judge James E. Plowman heard arguments Friday afternoon on a requested emergency injunction to reinstate the P.E. teacher suspended after saying at a School Board meeting, for religious reasons, he would not abide by state-mandated protections for transgender students.

A decision is expected by the close of business Monday.

Attorney Tyson Langhofer argued his client, Leesburg Elementary School P.E. Teacher Tanner Cross, had been retaliated against by the school system for expressing his views to elected officials as a private citizen at a School Board meeting.

“This case is about what makes democracy possible,” Langhofer told the court. And, he said, if the school system was allowed to suspend teachers because of the complaints of a few families of students, “it would eviscerate the rights of teachers.”

“It’s a very dangerous road you don’t want to go down,” Langhofer said, adding that other teachers have already said they now feel they cannot express their views for fear of retaliation. He likened the suspension to a “heckler’s veto,” a concept in constitutional law in which the government unconstitutionally suppresses free speech because of the possibility of a violent reaction by hecklers.

“If the defendant’s position is correct, five families could get any teacher fired across the county,” Langhofer said.

Attorney Stacy Haney, representing the school system, argued that Cross was suspended not because of his statements, but because he expressed an intention not to follow school policy and state law, and due to disruption at the school after his speech at the School Board. While the School Board was gathering feedback on proposed policies protecting students from discrimination based on gender identity, she pointed out, there is no option for the local School Board not to adopt those policies—they are required by a state law passed in 2020.

In declarations filed by Leesburg Elementary School Principal Shawn Lacey, Interim Assistant Superintendent Lucia Sebastian and Interim Superintendent Scott Ziegler, the school system argued Cross’s speech had caused a disruption in part because five families had written to the school to request their children have no contact with him, as well as pointing to higher suicide rates and mental health problems among transgender students whose gender identity is not affirmed.

They argued he was suspended not because of his stated religious beliefs, which he had also previously expressed to the School Board by email, but after a day of disruption at the school.

“The School Board has an interest, and it is a compelling one, to protect all students from harassment and discrimination” and to foster an inclusive learning environment, Haney said.

After the lawsuit, Cross and his attorneys went to rally supporting him at Cornerstone Chapel.

“When the school suspended me, they were sending a message to me and other teachers: they will punish teachers who speak out,” Cross said. “But I know this: LCPS should not require me to violate my conscience and lie to my students, and I care too much for my students to lie to them.”

Plowman said he wanted an opportunity to review the case law and filings submitted in the case, much of which came that same afternoon as the emergency injunction was on an accelerated timeline, and took the case under advisement. He said he would endeavor to issue a written opinion by the close of business on Monday.

The School Boardis developing policies to meeta new Virginia Department of Education mandate to protect learners of all gender identities.

“It is not my intent to hurt anyone, but there are certain truths that we all must face when ready. We condemn school policies, like 8040 [Rights of Transgender and Gender Expansive Students] and 8035 [Sexual Discrimination, Sexual Assault], because [they] would damage children and defile the holy image of God,” Cross said at the School Board meeting May 25. “I love all my students, but I will never lie to them regardless of the consequences. 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, and it is sinning against our God.”

Two days later, Cross was placed on administrative leave pending an “investigations of allegations that you engaged in conduct that has had a disruptive impact on the operations of Leesburg Elementary School,” according to a letter from Sebastian. The Christian nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit June 1.

6 thoughts on “Circuit Court Asked to Reinstate Suspended Loudoun Teacher

  • 2021-06-04 at 10:59 pm
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    LCPS attorney Stacy Haney is one of the densest attorneys around. She is a bit player in another lawsuit filed in 2019 in King George County regarding a teacher who also refused to use incorrect pronouns (Vlaming v West Point SB). She obviously has no clue because even assuming West Point could terminate a teacher for not using pronouns with an actual transgender student, the notion that a bunch of radical, Leftist parents can get a teacher fired because he advocated for a different policy is not supported in any case law anywhere. Note that Haney is apparently the one who advised LCPS to put Tanner Cross on leave.

    It is also beyond ironic that Jim Plowman is presiding over this case when he was found to have unconstitutionally blocked constituents in a Facebook public forum while serving as Commonwealth’s Attorney. He just loves him some good censorship.

  • 2021-06-05 at 1:58 pm
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    I wouldn’t want that guys anywhere near my kids and I think suspending him from the school while the dust settles was a good call.

    40 years ago many teachers insisted they couldn’t teach mixed race classrooms because it was against their religion. Kinda just like the restaurants that wouldn’t serve mixed raced couples- didn’t work out so well then either

    What I want to know is why these big strong looking men feel the need to blame their chosen course of action on Jesus?

  • 2021-06-06 at 9:39 am
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    On September 4, 2020, I forecast that LCPS would illegally punish a teacher based on the draconian professional conduct it was considering. At the time, I cited a number of relevant legal cases that demonstrate Tanner Cross’ comments are not only protected but valued by our constitution. Here was my comment on a Sep 4, 2020 LCPS Facebook post. They are very relevant to Judge Plowman’s opinion expected out Monday.

    —————–

    The LCPS SB is considering a “professional conduct” policy that implies teachers cannot speak out about policy disagreements with LCPS. Teachers should be informed of controlling case law in this matter. Namely in Pickering v Bd. of Education (391 U.S. 563 (1968), the namesake of the “Pickering Test”), the Supreme Court found:

    “On such a question free and open debate is vital to informed decision-making by the electorate. Teachers are, as a class, the members of a community most likely to have informed and definite opinions as to how funds allotted to the operation of the schools should be spent. Accordingly, it is essential that they be able to speak out freely on such questions without fear of retaliatory dismissal.”

    In Smith v Gilchrist (749 F.3d 302, 308 (4th Cir 2014)): “Protection of the public interest in having a debate on matters of public importance is at the heart of the First Amendment” and “the government bears the ‘burden of justifying the discharge on legitimate grounds”

    In Urofsky v. Gilmore, 216 F.3d 401, 406 (4th Cir. 2000): Speech that touches on “involve[d] an issue of social, political, or other interest to the community” is speech addressing a matter of public concern

    In McVey v Stacey, 157 F.3d 271, 279 (4th Cir 1998): A “stronger showing of public interest in the speech requires a concomitantly stronger showing of government-employer interest to overcome it.”

    In Durham v Jones, 737 F.3d 291, 302 (4th Cir 2013): “[I]t is not enough that there is some disruption; the amount of disruption has to outweigh the importance of the speech and its concern to the public.”

    While LCPS SB members have a tendency to claim they have unlimited rights, nothing could be further from the truth. I realize this may scare a lot of employees. It would be wise for the LEA to have a lawyer provide a brief to employees on their substantial rights. As an entity, LCPS often acts like a criminal cartel.

  • 2021-06-06 at 5:53 pm
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    After re-instating Tanner those who put him on leave need to be shamed by the judge.

  • 2021-06-07 at 12:29 pm
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    It appears there is a hearing in King William County today in a similar case: Vlaming v West Point SB. Any chance Loudoun Now could fill us in on what happens in that case as it may influence this one.

  • 2021-06-09 at 5:49 pm
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    Here come the taliban to use taxpayer money and public schools to brainwash kids to their religious belief in immutable binary gender. Where is the religious freedom or conscience clause for the children and parents who believe that gender is fluid? Teachers should stay neutral in these religious wars and stop concerning themselves with student genitals. It is so creepy.

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