A Virginia high school teacher was fired Thursday for “insubordination” after he refused to use male pronouns when referring to one of his biologically female students.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that French teacher Peter Vlaming was terminated from his position Thursday night after the West Point School Board voted 5-0 in favor of his firing. During what witnesses described as a “slip-up,” Flaming referred to a female ninth-grade student who identifies as a male as “her.”
West Point High Principal Jonathan Hochman testified during Thursday’s four-hour meeting that he had directed Vlaming to refer to the student using male pronouns. Vlaming refused, saying his Christian faith prevented him from doing so, but agreed to refer to the student by her new male name.
“I’m totally happy to use the new name. I’m happy to avoid female pronouns not to offend because I’m not here to provoke…but I can’t refer to a female as a male, and a male as a female in good conscience and faith,” Vlaming reportedly said, according to Newsweek.
But school administrators weren’t satisfied with a compromise and all five West Point School Board members sided with Superintendent Laura Abel who recommended Vlaming’s termination.
“That discrimination then leads to creating a hostile learning environment. And the student had expressed that. The parent had expressed that,” Abel said Thursday night. “They felt disrespected.”
Vlaming’s attorney, Shawn Voyles, argued that while the school district had updated its policies a year ago to address protections for gender identity, there weren’t any specific guidelines on the appropriate use of gender pronouns.
Voyles also claimed that firing Vlaming would be a violation of his constitutional rights and accused the school board of “compelled speech.”
“One of those rights that is not curtailed is to be free from being compelled to speak something that violates your conscience,” Voyles said, later saying that “tolerance is a two-way street.”
“My client respects this student’s rights; he is simply asking that his rights be respected as well,” Voyles said. “The student is absolutely free to identify as the student pleases. The school board adopted one viewpoint and required Mr. Vlaming, at the cost of his job, to repeat that ideology, repeat that viewpoint.”
“That’s where it’s compelled speech. That’s where it violates his First Amendment right he still retains as a public employee,” Voyles added.
Vlaming made a brief statement of his own during Thursday’s meeting in which he claimed that he attempted to find “mutual tolerance” in the matter, but that threatening his job was “not tolerance.”
“That is coercion,” he said, and was supported by an overflow crowd of parents and students holding signs that read “Justice for Mr. Vlaming,” The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.
Hochman, the principal who admonished Vlaming for “misgendering” a student, said during Thursday’s hearing that he had directed Vlaming to “say sorry for that” and “refer to her by the male pronoun.” Hochman’s slip-up was used by Vlaming and his attorney to point out the strictness of the policy, which Hochman violated by referring to the student as “her” during his testimony.
Acknowledging the “potential for future litigation,” the school board issued a brief statement after the hearing to say that Vlaming “was recommended for termination due to his insubordination and repeated refusal to comply with directives made to him by multiple [school] administrators.”
Vlaming said he is considering an appeal, but first needs to consult with his attorneys.
“I have to research how we would do that, what that would entail,” he said. “I do think it’s a serious question of First Amendment rights.”
The Virginia Gazette reported that about 100 students walked out of class Friday in protest of Vlaming’s termination while chanting “Justice for Vlaming.”
“Everyone has rights, the student has rights, but so does Mr. Vlaming. This is violating Mr. Vlaming’s First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and religion. He cares about his students and we care about him,” one student said during the protest.
“I don’t think it’s fair. The transgender student’s hopes, beliefs, and rights overrode Mr. Vlaming’s,” another student added.
A GoFundMe was started for Vlaming and his family of six, noting that they are now “without his salary and benefits” just before Christmas.
“Peter stood by his conscience and the price has been high,” the fundraiser states. “All this just before Christmas. Please join me in supporting the courageous stand that this family has taken.”
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of Battleground State News and The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo “West Point High School” (background) by West Point Public Schools.