Loudoun County school board votes to guarantee employee free speech rights

Loudoun County School Board set to vote on a revised policy after courts overturn teacher suspension

The Loudoun County, Virginia school board voted Tuesday to revise their professional conduct policy to explicitly address the First Amendment rights of employees.

The revised policy follows an Aug. 30 ruling from the Virginia Supreme Court, which ruled Loudoun County Public Schools failed to prove a lower court abused its discretion by ordering Loudoun County teacher Tanner Cross reinstated after he was placed on administrative leave in May for criticizing a proposed transgender policy.

Citing his religion, Cross gave a viral speech at the May school board meeting asserting his belief that referring to students with pronouns that do not correspond with their biological sex is “lying to a child, it’s abuse to a child, and it’s sinning against our God.”

“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,” he said at the time.

After he was placed on leave, Cross sued and a lower court agreed that his constitutional rights were likely violated by the school district.

In a section titled “Protected Speech,” the revised policy reads, “Employees of the school division must recognize that they are in a position of public trust. However, nothing in this policy or any other policy shall be interpreted as abridging an employee’s First Amendment right to engage in protected speech or their right to a private life outside of their work responsibilities except as provided by law.”

The policy also stipulates a “Commitment to Equitable Treatment,” which says in part that “employees are expected to support the school division’s commitment to action-oriented equity and nondiscrimination practices through the performance of their job duties in order to promote respect, professionalism, civility and inclusivity for all persons.”

In August, the school board passed a measure mandating that teachers and staff refer to students by their preferred pronouns and that students are allowed to choose bathrooms, locker rooms and sports teams based on their gender identity.

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