Virginia News

West Point HS teacher at center of transgender controversy terminated after school board hearing

Board voted unanimously on Thursday to approve the superintendent's decision

WEST POINT, Va. (WRIC) -- The school board for West Point Public Schools voted unanimously on Thursday to approve the termination of a teacher at West Point High School who was at the center of a transgender controversy at the school. 

Peter Vlaming, a French teacher at the school, was put on paid administrative leave on Oct. 31 for not using a student's preferred identity pronoun. 

Several people, including Vlaming, spoke during the public hearing on Thursday. 

"My religious faith dictates that I am to love and respect everyone, whether I agree with them or not. Because we are all made in God's image," Vlaming said, reading from a prepared opening statement. 

“I am also aware of, and agree, with speech limits that are placed on public school teachers, concerning matters of religious faith. I represent the state in my role as a public school teacher and therefore speak with a certain authority. That authority is not to be used to promote any one specific worldview, and I don’t. However, we are here today because a specific worldview is being imposed upon me," he continued.  

The school board of West Point Public Schools approved the superintendent's recommendation to terminate Vlaming at the end of the hearing.  

Superintendent Laura Abel shared a statement with 8News about the decision to terminate Vlaming:

"The School Board has policies that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity. As detailed during the course of the public hearing, Mr. Vlaming was recommended for termination due to his insubordination and repeated refusal to comply with directives made to him by multiple WPPS administrators. As superintendent, it is my responsibility to enforce board policy, and due to Mr. Vlaming's non-compliance I therefore recommended termination.

Given the potential for further litigation, we will limit any additional comments to what was presented at the hearing." 

8News reached out to the school earlier in the week for comment but West Point Public Schools cited the incident as "a personnel issue" and declined to respond about the status of Vlaming's case. 

On Saturday, West Point school board released a statement about their decisions from earlier in the week: 

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.

Students told 8News that Vlaming won't use male pronouns for a student who now identifies as a boy. 

Vlaming's lawyer tells 8News, “My client respects this student’s rights; he is simply asking that his rights be respected as well."

An online petition supporting Mr. Vlaming, which is titled "Don't terminate Mr. Vlaming," has over 1,000 signatures. The petition quotes Vlaming on his thoughts on the incident: 

"I won't use male pronouns with a female student that now identifies as a male though I did agree to use the new masculine name but avoid female pronouns. Administration is requiring that I use masculine pronouns in any and every context at school. I was informed that any further instances of using female pronouns would be grounds for termination."

On Tuesday, 8News spoke with a West Point High School student who says he is also supporting Vlaming. 

"I'm just outraged about it," said Forrest Rohde, a West Point High School junior. "He's a really nice guy, he wanted to do everything about his students. He really does care about his students. The thing he will not do is change his ways of thoughts and believing in things just to conform to someone else's ideologies."  

Vlaming reportedly called a transgender student "she," but the student wants to be identified as a male.

"The transgender girl has the right to be whatever she wants but just because she has the right doesn't mean we're not obliged to follow her beliefs," Rohde said. 

Rohde posted signs all over the school in support of the teacher after hearing Vlaming was put on administrative leave. The signs read: "Facts don't care about your feelings," "#Justice for Vlaming," and "Mr. Vlaming is innocent." 

"I see this stuff on the news far away from here," Rohde said, "but when it hits close to home and someone's free speech is being violated, I have to step in and say something about it."

The school confirmed to 8News on Dec. 4 that Vlaming was put on paid administrative leave and that Vlaming requested a public hearing:

Mr. Vlaming is currently on paid administrative leave, and West Point Public Schools has followed and will continue to follow Virginia Code and all local policies and procedures relating to licensed staff members. The grievance process, including the purpose/results of a hearing, is governed by Virginia Code. Here is a link for you: https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title22.1/chapter15/section22.1-311/

Because this is a personnel issue, we are unable to provide specific information due to employee and student confidentiality. Mr. Vlaming has requested a public hearing and details regarding our recommendations will become public at that hearing. Until that time, it is important that we not only ensure the integrity of our employment process but also meet our responsibilities regarding safeguarding student confidentiality.

                                              - Abel Laura, West Point Public Schools superintendent 

A family friend of the transgender student told 8News the family is remaining strong and acknowledged that this is a difficult time for all parties involved.

"The family is a strong one and the child is being supported in paving the way for other trans children that may come after him," the family friend said in a statement to 8News. "He has remained calm and respectful and this is a hard time for the teacher and the student."

Legal analyst Russ Stone told 8News that it's uncertain whether or not the school has grounds to fire Vlaming.

Vlaming's lawyer also tells 8News, “Public schools have no business compelling people to express ideological beliefs that they don’t hold. This isn’t just about a pronoun; this is about forcing someone to endorse an ideology under threat of losing his job. That’s neither legal nor constitutional."

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