On January 3, 2024

Judge rules former Woodstock coach’s speech wasn’t violated in termination

Submitted

By Katy Savage

Most of a former Woodstock Union High School snowboard coach’s claims that his free speech and due process rights were violated against the school board, superintendent and state were denied by a U.S. District Court judge on Dec. 28.

Judge Christina Reiss denied Coach David Bloch’s motion seeking irreparable harm and denied his claim that the school violated his due process rights. Reiss also partially argued in favor of Bloch’s arguments that the state policies and Vermont Principal Association’s policies could overburden free speech. 

“The District is very pleased with this result,” Woodstock Superintendent Sherry Sousa said in an email. “After a full evidentiary hearing, the federal court refused to reinstate Mr. Bloch, rejecting his arguments that he was exercising his free speech rights when he made comments about a transgender student/athlete on another team.”  

Bloch, who founded the Woodstock snowboard team, was fired Feb. 9, 2023, after making transphobic remarks at a snowboarding competition.

Court documents indicate he and his students were at Jay Peak on Feb. 8 for a race in which female students on the Woodstock team were to compete against a transgender student on the Hartford High School team. 

During a break, a male student on the Woodstock team told a female teammate that the competition was unfair. 

The girl called the male a transphobic. The male student said the conversation then “got heated,” according to court documents. 

Bloch entered the conversation, telling the students there were biological and skeletal differences between males and females, including different muscle distribution. The conversation was brief, according to court documents.

Bloch, who filed a complaint against the district, the Vermont Principals’ Association and Agency of Education in July, initially said in court documents that nobody heard the conversation. 

He alleged he was called into the superintendent’s office on Feb. 9 and fired without an investigation or due process.

However, court documents show there was another exchange with Bloch. 

Bloch admitted to telling female athletes on his team, “Let’s go beat this biological boy” — something omitted from his original complaint, according to court documents.

Bloch said he made the comment under his breath and didn’t think anybody heard him. He made the comment “out of frustration on behalf of his female team members,” according to court documents. 

One student also said Bloch yelled to female athletes from across the room, “Get out there. You have some male competition.”  

The girls responded by saying, “What.” 

Bloch responded, “Come over here. I probably shouldn’t yell this across the room.” 

On the way home, the Woodstock team and Hartford team rode together on the bus. Bloch sat beside the transgender student’s father, who coaches the Hartford team, though there was no further discussion.

That evening, Woodstock Athletic Director Jeff Boymer received a text from Woodstock Assistant Principal Cody TranCreti the night of Feb 8. TranCreti said he heard from Hartford Athletic Director Jeff Moreno.  

Moreno said in the text, “FYI, the Woodstock coach made an inappropriate comment about W (the transgender student). W. has made friends with a few of the Woodstock teammates and the coach was telling his kids that they need to try real hard because they are competing against a guy pretending to be a girl. Apparently he planned on speaking with our coach but found out W was his child so did not approach him.” 

TranCreti then began going through the roster and calling students on the team, according to court documents. Three separate students and one assistant coach were interviewed. They said Bloch’s comments were not surprising, explaining he was sexist and seemingly favored male athletes.  

Boymer then called Bloch at home the following morning. Boymer said there was an emotional conversation as Bloch was anticipating the phone call. Bloch admitted to saying he made a comment that there was a “guy pretending to be a girl” on the other team.

Bloch said he was going to hire a lawyer and call newspapers, according to court documents.

Bloch was called to Sousa’s office the next morning. Sousa admitted in court documents that she could have placed the coach on leave or followed other disciplinary pursuits. She has a transgender child who was previously on the snowboard team and felt the issue “was an important one.” 

The judge ruled Bloch’s attorneys didn’t demonstrate he was fired for the speech. He was rather fired because of the disruption.  “Plaintiff’s comments not only had the potential to disrupt a school function and cause offense to a captive audience but in fact did so,” the judge said. 

Attempts to reach attorneys for Bloch weren’t successful. 

“The ruling demonstrates that our decision to demand that school employees behave in a way that is consistent with a supportive, respectful and inclusive learning environment is both the right thing to do and consistent with the law,” Sousa wrote.

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