Tanner Cross is a physical education teacher at Leesburg Elementary School in Leesburg.

I was having a great week at work a few weeks ago. My students and I had spent that Wednesday playing a game of T-ball. There’s nothing like the joy in a child’s eyes when the bat connects with the ball for the first time.

The next day, I was handed a letter by my employer at Loudoun County Public Schools announcing that I was being put on administrative leave and being investigated for “disruptive” behavior.

I’ve been an educator for 15 years and have been a physical education instructor in the Loudoun County School District for seven years. I care deeply about my students and want the best for them. I want to help them flourish as human beings, not just as students.

As with other teachers in the district, I was troubled when the school board proposed a new policy that would require teachers to use a student’s preferred pronouns regardless of whether they correspond to that student’s biological sex (or anything else, for that matter). I believe this policy harms teachers by forcing them to affirm things to their students and about their students that they don’t believe are true.

I also believe this policy could harm my students. Some people who identified as transgender as children and ultimately transitioned regret that decision and feel they were led astray by the adults who advised them. I think the district’s proposed policy will do the same thing for some children in Loudoun County. This is the last thing I want for my students.

Two days before I was suspended by the district, I was one of many people who voiced my concerns about these policies at a school board meeting. Community members received an open invitation to voice their opinions, and I spoke in my personal capacity. When I spoke, I was thinking about my values, my experience, my students, their parents and my fellow teachers.

Instead of hearing me, my employer labeled my viewpoints as “disruptive.”

There’s no mistake about what’s going on; the school district is making an example out of me in front of all other teachers who disagree with these policies. I’m not the only teacher who wants to be honest with my students, even when it’s uncomfortable. Some of us are concerned that the proposed policies would harm students and require us to affirm what we believe isn’t true. But I’m the first one to speak publicly about it. The school district is threatening other teachers into silence.

It’s not just my fellow teachers I worry about; I also fear for my students and the unintended lesson they will learn about the very nature of freedom in our country from their school’s actions. Schools in the United States should be encouraging students to exercise and enjoy their First Amendment rights, but when they hear rumors that a teacher isn’t coming back to school because he or she voiced an opinion publicly, it ends up chilling their ability to speak, too. They learn that if some people don’t like your speech, it’s okay for the government to punish you, when our schools should be teaching them the exact opposite.

My attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom wrote a letter to the school identifying its blatant constitutional violation in suspending me for speaking at a public event. Rather than reinstating me and expunging the disciplinary letter from my record, the school doubled down. So I took LCPS to court, and that court told the school district on June 9 to reinstate me as my case moves forward.

LCPS cannot punish me for speaking against a policy that would require me to violate my conscience before that policy has even been adopted.

I am a teacher, but I’m also a husband, a member of my community and a citizen. Like everyone else, I have views and opinions that I want to share and advocate for. Advocating for causes I believe in on my personal time should not cost me my job. Public schools should not punish teachers like me for sharing their beliefs.

Every American has the right to speak to their elected officials about policies those officials are considering. And I don’t lose that right just because I’m a public employee. Teachers are protected by the Constitution, just like everyone else in America.

I advocated for my students and my fellow teachers in front of the school board that Tuesday night, and I’m advocating for them now by taking a stand.

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