In Virginia, a French teacher at West Point High School lost his job because he refused to use the proper pronoun for a transgender student. When the district and Peter Vlaming couldn’t agree on the issue, Vlaming requested a public hearing. Even though administrative issues are generally private, Vlaming hoped the public setting would put pressure on the school board. Vlaming’s plan backfired when the school board voted unanimously to fire him.
According to a report on WTVR in Virginia, trouble started when a transgender student entered Vlaming’s class. The transgender child had recently started his transition and asked for the school to call him he/him.
While in his class, Vlaming refused to use the child’s preferred pronoun. In October, Vlaming admitted to the principal that he had a “slip-up” and called the student her instead of him.
Over multiple meetings with the principal and superintendent, Vlaming was counseled by the district to address the student with their preferred pronoun and name. However, Vlaming refused to follow their direction.
After the failed attempt by the superintendent to mediate the issue, the superintendent recommended that the school board terminate the teacher.
Last week the district held the meeting publically at the request of Vlaming. During the hearing, Vlaming said that he is a teacher, but above everything else, he is a Christian. Because of his faith, Vlaming said he could not use the child’s preferred pronoun and name.
“We are here today because a specific worldview is being imposed on me,” Vlaming read from a prepared statement. “Even higher than my family ranks my faith.”
When superintendent, Laura Abel, spoke to the school board her take was straight to the point. She said by Vlaming refusing to use the student’s preferred pronoun and name; he discriminated against the child. Additionally, she noted that Vlaming created a hostile environment for the child.
Vlaming’s attorney, Shawn Voyles, argued his client could not be forced to say something that violates his conscience.
The district’s attorney, Stacey Haney, responded that Vlaming’s made a conscious choice to treat a transgender child differently than other students. Because of his decision to willfully deny the child’s rights, the attorney argued that Vlaming discriminated against the student.
After the arguments from both sides finished, the school board voted 5-0 to terminate Vlaming.
When a reporter asked Vlaming if the fight was worth it, he responded, “there are some hills that are worth dying on.”
Following Vlaming’s termination, the School Board updated the West Point High School with an announcement. The announcement from the school board said:
Thursday night, the School Board made a difficult decision after thoughtful consideration. It is the Board’s responsibility to adopt and uphold policy, and we unanimously voted to affirm the Superintendent’s recommendation to terminate Mr. Vlaming.
West Point Public Schools has the responsibility to ensure all students have a safe and supportive school environment where they can learn and thrive. We do not and cannot tolerate discrimination in any form, or actions that create a hostile environment for any member of our school family.
Mr. Vlaming was asked repeatedly, over several weeks and by multiple administrators, to address a student by the pronouns with which this student identifies. The issue before us was not one mistaken slip of the tongue. Mr. Vlaming consistently refused to comply going forward — including in a statement made at the hearing — a willful violation of school board policy.
While we understand that some do not agree with our decision, we hope to have discussions that help West Point Public Schools move forward, maintain our focus on excellence and instruction, and make a positive impact on the lives of our community’s children.The Town of West Point School Board
Naturally, Vlaming’s attorney said that they have 10-days to appeal the decision by the school board. Also, the attorney said they have not ruled out filing a federal lawsuit for Vlaming’s termination.
The National Center for Transgender Equality says that federal law protects transgender students in school. Under Title IX, which bans sex discrimination in schools, a transgender student cannot be discriminated against because of their gender. As a part of Title IX students have a right to be called by their preferred pronoun while at school.
Unless there are changes to Title IX, Vlaming’s potential federal lawsuit has no legs to stand on. Vlaming willfully chose to discriminate against a child that is protected under Title IX. Because Vlaming decided to put his faith above his profession, Vlaming lost his job.
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