Virginia School Board Fires Teacher For Not Using Transgender Pronouns

Virginia School Board Fires Teacher For Not Using Transgender Pronouns

Peter Vlaming lost his job because, although he agreed to use the transgender student’s opposite-sex name, he refused to use transgender pronouns.
Nicole Russell
By

A school board fired a high school teacher in Virginia Thursday for refusing to refer to a female student by male pronouns, even though Peter Vlaming did agree to refer to the transgender student by her new male name.

School administrators recommended to the West Point School Board that Vlaming be fired. They claimed he had violated the school’s nondiscrimination and harassment policies.

Battles over bathrooms, locker rooms, sports teams, and other sex-specific spaces have been raging for some time in schools across the country, although so far it appears few teachers have been fired over it. This decision to sanction transgender groupthink at the cost of a teacher’s job shows just how far public schools have become willing to go to deny biological reality and enforce leftist propaganda.

What Happened in Virginia

Over the summer, a female student adopted a new male name. (So far, the student’s name has not been released.) The student’s family informed the school of the change this fall. It’s unclear if the student took hormone blockers also, or just changed her name. Surgery at this age is less likely, although transgender middle-schoolers have already had their breasts removed.

Vlaming, 47, who taught French at West Point High School for about seven years after spending ten in France, agreed to use the student’s new male name, but refused to use male pronouns to refer to the student, and tried to avoid using any pronouns. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported this made the student feel “uncomfortable” and “singled out,” so she complained to administrators.

Vlaming “told his superiors his Christian faith prevented him from using male pronouns” for a female student. This led to a four-hour hearing. Following this, the West Point School Board voted 5-0 to terminate Vlaming. West Point schools Superintendent Laura Abel said: “That discrimination then leads to creating a hostile learning environment. And the student had expressed that. The parent had expressed that. They felt disrespected.”

During the hearing, Vlaming presented a different perspective. He and his attorney said he had showed love and respect toward his students and “had tried to reach a solution based on ‘mutual tolerance.’” Vlaming and his attorney argued that it seemed wrong for him to lose his job since he held to a view “most of the world for most of human history” has believed about the sexes and forcing him to refer to a student by something the student falsely believes is true is not tolerance. “That is coercion,” Vlaming said.”I am being punished for what I haven’t said.” Vlaming and his attorney have not yet filed a wrongful termination lawsuit.

Picking the Right Battles

The fact that a public school teacher has been fired for refusing to address a student by her preferred pronouns on the basis of religious belief could present an interesting legal challenge. If a lawsuit were filed, it would inevitably combine First Amendment rights, transgender issues, and religious liberty in a challenging trifecta. Still, because it’s not yet in the court of legal opinion, as a social matter, or an educational one — even public education — it’s more straightforward.

In this very specific issue, the state of Virginia is requiring a state employee to say something not only that he does not believe (guided by his religious beliefs) but that is simply untrue. The problems with science and compelled speech regarding the burgeoning topic of transgender issues are hard to overstate. This is likely what Vlaming means when he says he could not refer to the student by her preferred pronoun.

Vlaming believes sex is God-given and inherent from birth. A person is either born a boy a girl, and that simply cannot be changed. This is not simply his opinion, it is reality. So, unless biology is completely a farce, or the public education system is cherry-picking what aspects of science they observe and don’t, the teenager has not become male. Therefore, male prounouns are in fact false, regardless of how she or anybody feels about them.

The next salient issue here is whether a school has the right to compel a teacher to say something he believes is untrue, or to say something that violates his conscience. There ought to be no school boards who compel anyone to say anything that is untrue — particularly if schools’ function is to provide a sound education and critical thinking skills.

Of course, schools must provide adequate environments for education, not the least of which include enforcing students need for respect, safety, quiet, and more. But the school need not bend over backwards to accommodate every single person’s wishes, especially when those wishes are in flagrant opposition to reality.

An Inevitable Consequence

The fact that a public school teacher was fired for failing to adhere to the transgender ideology is not surprising, even though it is disappointing. Even aside from the religious and First Amendment issues, what remains equally pressing is the decision public school boards and administrations alike have made to concern themselves with matters that have little to do with providing students a rigorous education and a safe environment within which to learn.

Too many public schools have taken issues related to a child’s self-care and identity much too far, broadening the need for a secure environment to ends that are preposterous, if not difficult to enforce. For example, Mera Babineaux, a West Point resident and founder of the Virginia Anti-Bullying and Discrimination Action Network, wrote in a letter to the board: “No matter what sense of self or identity a child may have, public schools must remain a bastion of secular education, where children can learn without fear of retribution for who they are, where they worship, who they love, or how they present themselves.”

This is absurd. It is not a school’s job to make every child feel comfortable 100 percent of the time. It is a school’s job to educate. In fact, this kind of situation demonstrates one of the many things that happens when the government involves itself in education at all — another good reason to favor school choice.

In just a century, American public schools have abandoned their proclaimed goals of providing sound education and given in to the desire to indoctrinate — wholesale and with incredible zeal — leftist ideology that is anti-God, pro-choice, anti-Intelligent Design, pro-LGBTQ, and more. The result is schools have spent more money on teaching to subpar Common Core standards and enforcing so-called anti-discrimination standards that include prioritizing transgender politics to the detriment of students and society.

West Point High Principal Jonathan Hochman testified at the hearing. He told Vlaming to use male pronouns because that is what the student wanted. “I can’t think of a worse way to treat a child than what was happening,” he said.

I can. How about releasing generation upon generation of children into American society, indoctrinated in leftist tropes from age five years old, who were taught that facts are second to feelings and that how a person demands to be treated is more important than what is actually true.

Nicole Russell is a senior contributor to The Federalist. She lives in northern Virginia with her four kids. Follow her on Twitter @russell_nm.

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