Public school board meeting explodes over suspension of outspoken teacher, critical race theory

Tanner Cross was suspended after speech criticizing school’s proposed policies surrounding gender.

Virginia teacher Byron “Tanner” Cross saw an outpouring of support Tuesday as public commenters blasted a school system’s decision to suspend him after his now-viral comments about gender.

The dramatic meeting of the Loudon County Public Schools’ board was full of mic- drop moments and testy confrontations over issues plaguing the school district. Many public commenters either backed Cross or criticized the school board over critical race theory (CRT).

“Where is your regard for our freedom of speech?” asked parent Rachel Pisani, who said she was a mother of three in Loudoun County. “When I saw a teacher express an opinion and suspended for expressing his religious beliefs, I could no longer stay silent. When did it become acceptable to be tolerant only when someone expresses a view that we agree with? When did it become appropriate to silence those that hold Christian, biblical views just because you don’t? When did it become appropriate to allow the school board – I don’t know who you think you are – but it is not appropriate, it is not allowable to silence, bully, or dismiss our views.”

Due to a time constraint, her mic was cut off but she kept speaking and received raucus applause – flouting Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan’s request to use jazz hands. After that speech, Sheridan called for a recess and told the audience to find its “decorum.” Amplifying the tension, audience members repeatedly flouting her request, prompting multiple reminders from the chair.

Another female told the board: “Even being threatened with termination for simply speaking one’s opinion creates a culture of fear and silence – and this does not help anyone on either side of the aisle.”

Some educators also expressed concern as they held conservative views on gender and religion. 

Teacher Monica Gill told the board its suspension of Cross and other actions “resemble totalitarianism, not the Constitution.”

She added that “first and foremost, I am a Christian. What is most important? We live in truth, not lies. We look at character, not skin color. We love our lord and we love others. Know this – We will not yield. We will not let you have our souls or the souls of our children.”

Cross sparked an uproar last month when he told the school board he wouldn’t “affirm that a biological boy can be a girl and vice versa because it’s against my religion. It’s lying to a child, it’s abuse to a child, and it’s sinning against our God.”

Just days after that speech, Cross was told in a letter not to come on the school’s premises. The letter vaguely stated the school district was investigating “allegations that you engaged in conduct that has had a disruptive impact on the operations” of his school.

At one point Tuesday, teacher Jeremy Wright, who previously called the school board fascists, left what he said was a copy of the First Amendment on the podium. “For the members of Chardonnay Antifa, here is your assignment with a copy of the First Amendment attached,” said Wright before holding up a packet of paper. “I’m going to leave this here and I hope you learn something.”

After Wright received applause, Sheridan said: “I’ll remind you that I will entertain a motion to move public comment to the end of our agenda. Jazz hands only.”

A judge ordered LCPS on Tuesday to reinstate Cross, arguing it violated his right to free speech.

Cross had referred to draft policy 8040, which required Loudoun staff to use preferred pronouns.

“LCPS staff shall allow gender-expansive or transgender students to use their chosen name and gender pronouns that reflect their gender identity without any substantiating evidence, regardless of the name and gender recorded in the student’s permanent educational record,” it read.

“School staff shall, at the request of a student or parent/legal guardian, when using a name or pronoun to address the student, use the name and pronoun that correspond to their gender identity. The use of gender-neutral pronouns are appropriate. Inadvertent slips in the use of names or pronouns may occur; however, staff or students who intentionally and persistently refuse to respect a student’s gender identity by using the wrong name and gender pronoun are in violation of this policy.”

Another proposed policy, 8350, stated LCPS staff “shall allow gender-expansive and transgender students to participate in such activities in a manner consistent with the student’s gender identity.”

‘Hate speech is not free’

Many speakers seemed to support the school’s approach to gender. 

State delegate Jennifer Boyko defended the policies. Wearing a rainbow pin and mask, she told the board: “I want to thank you for your commitment to equality and making sure every child feels loved and valued.” 

A remote speaker, who identified as a mother of Cross’ students, suggested Cross was shirking his responsibilities as a teacher. She argued Cross used a “literalist interpretation of the Bible to argue why he refuses to fulfill his responsibility as a public school teacher.”

Another remote speaker argued policies like 8040 weren’t new and would make “trans and gender-expansive kids feel a little more welcome.” 

Other audience members held up signs that declared their support for the school board. A woman wearing an EQLOCO shirt urged parents not to use the concept of equality as a “weapon.”

“My pronouns are she/her. I’m here today … not only in support of our school board’s effort to improve equity, but to speak directly to our community – asking to stop turning equality into a weapon,” she said.

“We all have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The adults bullying our children need to be reminded that if you don’t have anything kind to say, don’t say anything at all. Stop projecting your fear on our children. This isn’t about bathrooms or White discrimination. Hate speech is not free!” 

One parent, Elizabeth Perrin, said the issue was more about the First Amendment than inclusion. 

“I have many LGBTQ friends and business mentors, and could not be happier that their rights and inclusion have been supported by our society as a whole,” she told Fox News via text on Wednesday. 

“That said, this was and will always be a first amendment violation by the school board, and am thrilled that the court held up Tanner Cross’ right to address his government. “