WEST POINT (AP/CBS) — A French teacher in southern Virginia was reportedly fired after he refused to use male pronouns to describe a transgender student. The West Point School Board voted unanimously Thursday to fire Peter Vlaming, a teacher at West Point High School. The school is about 36 miles east of Richmond and has about 270 students ranging from grades 9-12.
Vlaming, 47, had been teaching at the school for seven years before he was terminated, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. He reportedly told his bosses he is a Christian and his faith prevented him from using male pronouns to describe the student, whom he had taught a year before when the student identified as female.
Vlaming had agreed to call the student by his new name, but avoided using pronouns such as “he” and “him” when describing the student.
Witnesses described hearing him “slip-up” when the student nearly ran into a wall, according to The Associated Press. Vlaming told others to stop “her.” While talking about the incident with administrators, Vlaming indicated he would not use male pronouns.
The student said the teacher’s behavior made him feel uncomfortable. Administrators sided with the student, saying he had violated the district’s anti-discrimination and harassment policies, which had been updated last year to include protections for gender identity.
“That discrimination then leads to creating a hostile learning environment. And the student had expressed that. The parent had expressed that,” Superintendent Laura Abel told the newspaper. “They felt disrespected.”
Vlaming said he loves and respects his students and that he attempted to reach a solution revolving around “mutual tolerance,” the Times-Dispatch reported. His attorney, Shawn Voyles, said the school was unwilling to accept the compromise.
Voyles noted Vlaming, too, has constitutional rights.
“One of those rights that is not curtailed is to be free from being compelled to speak something that violates your conscience,” said Voyles.
Vlaming is weighing a legal appeal, but will review his options with his attorney before moving forward.
“I have to research how we would do that, what that would entail,” Vlaming said. “I do think it’s a serious question of First Amendment rights.”
LGBTQ-rights group Equality Virginia said the incident shows there’s a need for statewide guidance that will protect all students from being discriminated against at school.
The teacher’s firing reverberated through the community.
On Friday, about 100 middle and high school students walked out in support of the ousted teacher, The Virginia Gazette reported.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.