Court: School must return plaintiff 'to his position as it was prior to the suspension'
By Bob Unruh Published June 8, 2021 at 1:24pm
A state judge in Virginia has ordered the Loudoun County Public Schools to reinstate a teacher who had been suspended and ordered to stay away from school property after he made comments opposing the district's proposed transgender activism during a public board meeting.
Teacher Byron Tanner Cross had spoken out during May as the board was considering new requirements that would accommodate and promote the transgender agenda. He said as a Christian he could not do that.
He was suspended within 24 hours, when the school claimed his comments caused a "disruption."
But now Judge James E. Plowman Jr. has concluded there was little evidence of any "disruption," with only a handful of emails, and he has ordered the school district to restore his status.
"The court finds that the plaintiff's speech and religious content are central to the determination made by the defendants to suspend plaintiff's employment," the judge wrote. "Defendants shall immediately reinstate the plaintiff to his position as it was prior to the issuance of this suspension and remove the ban that was placed upon him from all buildings and grounds of Loudoun County Public Schools."
The judge found that the Cross was speaking as a citizen, and on a matter of public concern, and that there was "no actual disruption to school operations" because of his comments.
Further, the judge noted that any loss of First Amendment freedoms, "for even minimal periods of time," is "irreparable," and that "similarly situated employees" in the district already have been "chilled from speech" because of the administrators' actions.
"Enjoining a retaliatory suspension will not serve to harm the defendants," the judge said. "Further, it will serve to restore, to some degree, the reputation of the plaintiff that may have been harmed by defendants' actions."
The judge noted that the district even told the "community" by email of its actions against the teacher and that action was "an unnecessary and vindictive act."
Michael Farris, chief of the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is working on Cross' behalf, said, "Nobody should be punished for expressing concern about a proposed government policy, especially when the government invites comment on that policy. For that reason, we are pleased at the court’s decision to halt Loudoun County Public Schools’ retaliation against Tanner Cross while his lawsuit continues.
"Educators are just like everybody else—they have ideas and opinions that they should be free to express. Advocating for solutions they believe in should not cost them their jobs. School officials singled out his speech, offered in his private capacity at a public meeting, as ‘disruptive’ and then suspended him for speaking his mind. That’s neither legal nor constitutional. Dozens of other teachers have shared their beliefs on various policies without retaliation; Tanner deserves to be treated with the same respect."
The school's actions already have disrupted the community, with members of the local Democratic Party demanding that a local church pastor recant his support for the teacher's biblical stand.
WJLA reported the county's Democrat leadership was targeting Pastor Gary Hamrick of Cornerstone Chapel.
He backed an effort to recall six Loudoun County school board members who were part of the attack on Cross.
He told his congregation, "We've got to take back our schools. What are we to do, just throw our arms up, surrender? And allow our kids to be taken over by liberal Marxist ideology?"
He cited the fight facing Cross, who with his wife attends the church.
"Friends, this is now where we are. Jesus calls us to occupy until he comes. Part of occupying is to be what Jesus tells us to be which is salt and light."
He said the application of those substances sometimes is "very uncomfortable."
But he said, "to be passive is to be complicit."
He said his church was allowing petition signature gatherers to ask people to sign petitions to recall the six board members who are responsible for being "troublesome."
"Some of the them are not doing their duty, to protect" children, he said.
They are "subjecting them to sexually explicit materials … they are already talking about racially divisive material, emotionally abusing our children."
The pastor's description of the case is at about the 30-minute mark here:
The broadcast outlet explained Hamrick said in an interview, "When somebody can’t even exercise their First Amendment rights of free speech, there’s a problem. All of Tanner Cross’s remarks were very loving, very considerate, but they are remarks that expressed his convictions as a believer, and if we as Christians are being silenced today, then somebody has to be speak up."
Lissa Savaglio, the chief of the county's Democrat Party, had accused the pastor of having dangerous opinions.
"Child abuse is a crime. And for him to go up and accuse our school board members of that, I think it is dangerous," she charged.
She said board members were "already receiving death threats," the report said.
Cross has taught at Leesburg Elementary School for several years, but was suspended after he exercised his First Amendment rights to comment on the proposed school policies at a school board meeting.
The policies at issue "would force teachers to violate their conscience as educators and their deeply held beliefs by requiring them to address students with their chosen pronouns rather than the ones consistent with their biological sex," the ADF legal team argues.
"Public schools have no business compelling teachers to express ideological beliefs that they don't hold, nor do they have the right to suspend someone simply for respectfully providing their opinion at a public meeting," said Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer.
"The school district favors a certain set of beliefs on a hotly contested issue, 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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