A Virginia school district that found itself in the headlines for suspending a teacher who expressed opposition to transgender-promoting policies that were under consideration is getting warned that its actions probably are unconstitutional.
“The First Amendment prohibits retaliation against public employees for speaking on matters of public concern,” the Alliance Defending Freedom told Lucia Sebastian, the interim assistant superintendent for Loudoun County schools, in a letter.
In fact, the high court has stated specifically, “[A] teacher’s exercise of his right to speak on issues of public importance may not furnish the basis for his dismissal from public employment.”
The district created the problem by suspending Byron Cross, a longtime Leesburg elementary school physical education teacher.
He had spoken at a school board meeting “expressing his opposition to adopting proposed policies 8040 and 8350,” the ADF reported. But the district suspended him and banned him from campus hours later, claiming he was being investigated for potential “disruption.”
News reports explained that the proposed policies included demands that teachers address little boys with feminine pronouns if the students demanded that.
“Mr. Cross’s expression during public comment time at an open school board meeting was undoubtedly expression in his private capacity on a matter of public interest,” the ADF said. “Immediately suspending an employee and launching an investigation for engaging in First Amendment-protected expression, creates an atmosphere of fear and is intended to send a message to Mr. Cross and other teachers that they must toe the line or face the consequences.
“The First Amendment does not countenance such retaliation,” the ADF said.
The letter calls on the board to rescind the suspension and reinstate Cross, remove any reference to the action taken against him from his file and “refrain from any future retaliation.”
The ADF explained those policies under review “would force teachers to violate their beliefs by requiring them to address students with their chosen pronouns rather than the ones consistent with their biological sex.”
“Public schools have no business compelling teachers to express ideological beliefs that they don’t hold, but it’s beyond the pale to suspend someone simply for respectfully providing their opinion at a public meeting, which is what such meetings are designed for,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer.
“This isn’t just about a pronoun; this is about endorsing an ideology. The school favors certain beliefs, and it wants to force Tanner to cry uncle and endorse them as well. That’s neither legal nor constitutional, and neither was the school’s move to place Tanner on leave.”
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