Arizona's largest elementary school district has shifted course, voting to allow students from a Christian university to teach there once again, Alliance Defending Freedom announced Thursday.
"This is a complete vindication of the rights of our students to be able to participate as student-teachers in a public school district without fear of religious discrimination" said Arizona Christian University President Len Munsil in a statement.
The Washington Elementary School District voted 5-0 March 9 to end an arrangement in which ACU students completed their student teaching and practical coursework at WESD, as TheBlazereported. Board members at the time cited ACU's stance on lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual marriage as presenting an "unsafe" condition.
After Alliance Defending Freedom sued WESD, the board apparently saw the error of its ways, with four of its five members voting at Wednesday night's meeting to enter a new agreement with ACU. The district was slapped with $25,000 in attorneys' fees as part of the settlement.
Wearing cat ears to a February 23 WESD meeting, board member Tamillia Valenzuela expressed her opposition to ACU students helping mitigate the national teaching shortage and recruitment difficulties.
"At some point, we need 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," Valenzuela said.
Valenzuela was referring to ACU's promotion of "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."
Another WESD board member, Kyle Clayton, alleged at the February meeting that "proselytizing is embedded into how they teach."
"There are plenty of Christian denominations that are LGBTQ friendly," Governing Board President Nikkie Gomez-Whaley said prior to ADF's lawsuit, adding that for her, "this is not a concern about Christianity."
One lawsuit and two months later, WESD is singing a markely different tune.
"We obtained everything we wanted in this new agreement, without any sacrifice or compromise to our beliefs and our university’s religious purpose. We look forward to a continued beneficial partnership that serves ACU student-teachers and the students, faculty, and staff of the WESD," ACU President Munsil also said.
"By discriminating against Arizona Christian University and denying it an opportunity to participate in the student-teacher program because of its religious status and beliefs, the school district was in blatant violation of the U.S. Constitution, not to mention state law that protects ACU’s religious freedom," said ADF Senior Counsel David Cortman.
WESD released a statement to KNXV-TV on having "mutually agreed to resolve their dispute."
"We are pleased that the case against the WESD has been dismissed. We look forward to continuing the work of creating welcoming and accessible education spaces that meet the needs of our students, staff, and community," Governing Board President Nikkie Gomez-Whaley said in the statement.
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