A Teacher in Virginia was fired after refusing to use a transgender student’s preferred pronouns, multiple outlets reported.
On Thursday, members of The West Point Public Schools Board voted unanimously during a hearing to dismiss Peter Vlaming, noting that his actions were not only discriminatory but were also a form of harassment, according to The Virginian-Pilot.
Following the school’s superintendent Laura Abel’s recommendation to let Vlaming go, the board voted 5-0 in support.
Vlaming, of Williamsburg, who taught French at the school for at least seven years, had been on administrative leave since Oct. 31.
His case drew a significant amount of support and backlash, with nearly 100 people showing up to his hearing.
Before his release, Vlaming was allegedly told a number of times to use the student’s preferred pronoun of he but decided not to. The student, who has not been named, and the parents even met with Vlaming to express their concerns, The Virginian-Pilot reported.
During their meeting, Vlaming agreed to use the student’s new name but wanted to avoid using male pronouns.
However, the school division’s attorney Stacy Haney alleged that there was an incident, in which the student was wearing virtual reality goggles and almost walked into a wall, and Vlaming shouted, “Don’t let her run into the wall.”
The teacher claims addressing the ninth-grade student by his preferred male pronoun was against his religious beliefs.
Vlaming’s attorney Shawn Voyles explained to The Virginian-Pilot that the school’s gender identity policy had no specific guidelines when it came to using specific pronouns with transgender students.
When asked by the school division’s attorney Stacy Haney, whether or not he would use the student’s pronoun if he could return to teaching, Vlaming said he would still refuse— even though he has the utmost respect for the student, The Virginia Gazette reported.
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Following the board’s decision, a number of students held a walkout in protest of Vlaming’s firing.
The group consisted of middle and high school students, who held signs that read “Justice for Vlaming” and “Save Vlaming.”
“Everyone has rights, the student has rights, but so does Mr. Vlaming,” student Forrest Rohde, who helped organize the walkout, told The Virginia Gazette. “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.”
Fellow student Zachary Gonzalez had similar sentiments. “I don’t think it’s fair. The transgender student’s hopes, beliefs and rights overrode Mr. Vlaming’s,” Gonzalez told the newspaper. “I believe that you can be whoever you want to be gay, lesbian, trans, it doesn’t matter you should be able to be who you want to be. But you also have rights of the First Amendment such as freedom of speech and religion and Mr. Vlaming’s are being shut out.”
As for what’s next for Vlaming, The Virginia Gazette reported that he and his lawyer will be looking at whether or not they want to file an appeal with the King William County Circuit Court.
The West Point Public Schools did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Voyles also did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.