In September of 2019, Peter Vlaming, a French teacher at West Point High School, refused to address a transgender boy in his class with he/him pronouns. Instead, the teacher avoided using pronouns when addressing the student, while continuing to use gendered pronouns when addressing everyone else. After several warnings, the school district told the teacher he needed to address the student with male pronouns (the same way he addressed other boys) or he would be fired. The teacher refused; the school district fired him, and Vlaming, represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom, filed a suit in state court arguing that the school district violated his free speech and free exercise rights under the Virginia Constitution and Virginia’s RFRA.

Like thousands of school districts across the country, the West Point School District in northern Virginia enforces a policy requiring staff and faculty to refer to all students by the pronouns they prefer. Such policies are widely recognized by educators and mental health officials as critical to the well-being of transgender students, who face significantly higher risks for harassment, bullying, and poor health and academic outcomes in schools that do not enforce such a policy.

In July of 2022, the ACLU and the ACLU of Virginia filed an amicus brief in support of the school district and policies requiring K-12 public school teachers to address transgender students in a nondiscriminatory manner during class instruction. The brief explains that when a K-12 teacher addresses a captive audience of public school students during class, the teacher is speaking on behalf of the school district and not as a private citizen, and the school district has a right and responsibility to ensure that its teachers do not discriminate while delivering class instruction on the school district’s behalf.  Indeed, under any standard of scrutiny, a school district has a compelling governmental interest in ensuring that its own educational services are being provided to its students in a nondiscriminatory manner. A school district policy regulating the manner in which teachers address transgender students during class instruction is narrowly tailored to that compelling interest.

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