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Virginia school appeals ruling to reinstate teacher who opposed preferred pronoun policy

Byron "Tanner" Cross was placed on leave after he spoke out against a proposed policy that would require educators use a student's preferred pronoun.

A Loudoun County, Virginia, school district is fighting a judge's ruling to reinstate a teacher who was suspended after he criticized a proposed policy that would require educators to address students by their preferred pronouns.

A spokesman for Loudoun County Public Schools said on Thursday the district is appealing the court's decision to the Virginia Supreme Court, but said he could not comment further on pending litigation.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, whose attorneys are representing Cross, said "there is no reason" for the state Supreme Court to take the appeal.

“Public schools have no right to suspend someone simply for respectfully providing their opinion at a public meeting,” said senior attorney Tyson Langhofer in a statement. “The school district wants to force Tanner to endorse its ideals and shut down any opposing views. That violates the Constitution and laws of Virginia, and so did the school’s move to place Tanner on leave.”

Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge James Plowman ruled in June that the teacher, Byron "Tanner" Cross, was exercising his free speech when he spoke out at a school board meeting against the pronoun policy and ordered the district to "immediately reinstate" him.

Byron "Tanner" Cross, a physical education teacher at Leesburg Elementary School, speaks at a school board meeting in Loudoun County, Va.WRC

At the board meeting, Cross said he would not "affirm that a biological boy can be a girl and vice versa" because it goes against his religious beliefs. Cross, a physical education specialist at Leesburg Elementary School, went on to say that it is "abuse to a child" and is sinning against God.

During his speech, Cross referenced a "60 Minutes" episode that talked, in part, about young people who once identified as trans but changed their mind and detransitioned. He told the school board he was "speaking out of love for those who suffer with gender dysphoria."

Two days after Cross' comments, he was placed on administrative leave for engaging in conduct that was "disruptive" to school operations.

Michael Farris, president and CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom, slammed the school's suspension and said it was "neither legal nor constitutional."

The policy at the center of the controversy states that any gender-expansive or transgender student would be allowed to use "their chosen name and gender pronouns that reflect their gender identity without any substantiating evidence."

Educators would have to use the student's chosen name or pronoun when asked to do so, it says. The policy was drafted to create a "safe and inclusive learning environment" for students, according to the district.