A school board member of the Washington Elementary Arizona School District in the Phoenix area who identifies as a “bilingual, disabled, neurodivergent queer black Latina” blasted the district’s partnership with Arizona Christian University (ACU). The University states on its website that it seeks to “transform the culture with truth by promoting the Biblically-informed values that are foundational to Western civilization, including the centrality of family, traditional sexual morality, and lifelong marriage between one man and one woman.” During the board meeting, which eventually voted to end the district’s partnership with ACU, board member Tamillia Valenzuela stated that “While I full-heartedly believe in the religious freedom and people being able to practice whatever faith that they have, I had some concerns regarding looking at this particular institution. And I think it’s a really good time for us to take a moment and really pause about where our values lie.” During the last 5 years, over 100 ACU students have been placed in district schools. 

Valenzuela stated that the University’s beliefs were in stark contrast with 3 of the members of the board who are members of the LGBT community. “Because if we’re bringing people in whose mission [has]… been with their institution’s education that very plainly on their website… that above all else, it was to influence people to Biblically-minded. How does that hold space for people of other faiths? How does that hold space for our members of the LGBT community? How does that hold space for people who think differently and do not have the same beliefs?” she asked. She further added that bringing in teachers from ACU would not be “safe.” “At some point, we need to get real with ourselves and take a look at who we’re making legal contracts with and the message that is sending to our community. Because that makes me feel like I could not be safe in this school district,” she said. Fellow board member Kyle Clayton agreed, stating that the University is “proselytizing” its students. 

Soon after the partnership was dissolved, ACU stated it planned to take action against the district for religious discrimination. “The school board’s recent decision to ban ACU students from serving as student teachers was done for one reason only: our University’s commitment to our Christian convictions. That’s wrong, it’s unlawful, and it will only hurt the district’s students,” ACU President Len Munsil said in a statement to The Christian Post. He stated that the University was “exploring our options.” 

He stated that in the past, the district had been pleased with the students that were sent, oftentimes hiring them to full-time positions after graduation. “For years, Arizona Christian University has partnered with the Washington Elementary School District. More than 100 ACU students have served the district, including 25 student teachers, many of whom were hired full-time after graduation. Administrators have time and again asked us to send more ACU students because of the quality of our student’s work and their love and servant’s hearts for all,” he said. The American Council, a faith-based advocacy group, has vowed to ramp up its efforts to vote out current board members running for reelection in 2024, calling the board’s move “antireligious bigotry.” The Council vowed, “to elect competent, balanced, and family-centered leaders who focus on education and not politics.”

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