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Coach fired after saying males and females are biologically different

Vermont policies chill educators’ free speech, says lawsuit

Snowboards and skis iStock.com/Lilkin

Coach fired after saying males and females are biologically different

David Bloch, head coach of a Vermont high school snowboarding team, told two students on his team a scientific fact: that males and females have different physical characteristics based on their DNA. One day later, the school district superintendent fired him, accusing him of engaging in gender identity harassment that violated school policies.

On July 17, attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit on Bloch’s behalf. Bloch wants reinstatement in his job as head coach of the snowboarding team he founded in 2011 at Woodstock Union High School in Woodstock, Vt.

Bloch also asked the court to rule that the laws, policies, and actions of the Windsor Central Supervisory Union school district, the Vermont Principals’ Association, and the Vermont Agency of Education violated his constitutional rights.

Bloch alleged that the school district fired him as retaliation for expressing personal beliefs about differences between males and females. The school district had never reprimanded or disciplined him before, and he had never received a complaint. As a devout Roman Catholic, he believes God creates males and females with immutable sex characteristics determined by their chromosomes.

On Feb. 8, 2023, Bloch sat at a table with two members of his team inside a ski lodge at Jay Peak Resort as the group waited for a competition to start. The two students began to talk about athletes who identify as transgender. They expected a male snowboarder from an opposing school district who identified as a female to compete in the female division.

The male student at Bloch’s table said he thought that men competing against women was unfair based on biological differences. The female student disagreed and accused her male teammate of being transphobic.

Bloch told the students that people express themselves differently, that there can be masculine women and feminine men. But men and women have different DNA, causing different physical characteristics. Bloch said those characteristics generally give males competitive advantages in athletic competitions.

After the brief discussion, the female student said she disagreed with Bloch but thanked him for a “good conversation.”

According to the lawsuit, the subject never came up again that day. Bloch’s team competed without incident and shared a bus ride home with the opposing team, including the male student who identified as a female.

The next afternoon, Superintendent Sherry Sousa handed Bloch a letter she had already signed. It was a formal written notice of his “immediate termination” for violating the district’s harassment policy as well as the Vermont Principals’ Association Athletics policies.

The notice, attached to the lawsuit, stated that Bloch had used “disparaging terms” to describe a student on an opposing team the previous day. The notice also said that he had referred to the student “in a manner that questioned the legitimacy and appropriateness of the student competing on the girls’ team.” Sousa wrote that Bloch had created “an objectively offensive environment” and found that his comments “constituted harassment based on gender identity” under school policy.

“I was completely shocked,” Bloch said. All he had said the previous day was factual and based on science. In addition, the school district never informed him of allegations made against him or that an investigation had begun, and it never gave him a chance to respond and defend himself.

Bloch contends in his lawsuit that Sousa’s actions against him were unfair and did not follow constitutional procedures, including those required in school policy.

His lawsuit also asserts that school policies censor speech. Bloch said the lawsuit is a “very uncomfortable process,” but he wants to help other educators feel free to speak without fear of losing their jobs. He says other school district employees agree with his opinion but keep silent, fearing they will be terminated.

The chair of the school district’s board, Keri Bristow, told me on Saturday she had just received a copy of the lawsuit and could not comment on it. But she was confident that the school district followed its policies in removing the coach, and she expected the district to file a response.

ADF attorney Mathew Hoffmann said schools cannot fire public employees for speaking out on matters of public concern. “Unfortunately, today, and especially in Vermont, we’re seeing a trend towards trying to impose certain beliefs on people who disagree with them,” Hoffmann said.

Adele Fulton

Adele is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute, Vermont Law School, and Westmont College. She is an attorney in New Hampshire and lives in New England with her husband.


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