A woke school district in Arizona decided in February not to renew an agreement to involve student teachers from a Christian university, citing the incongruity between their Christian beliefs and LGBT dogma and further claiming that their "Biblically-informed values" made the board feel unsafe.
Teachers, parents, and community members in the Washington Elementary School District made their opposition known at a school board meeting Thursday within hours of the Christian university filing a lawsuit.
What's the background?
TheBlaze previously reported that the woke school board responsible for the WESD, Arizona's largest elementary school district, convened a meeting on Feb. 23 where they voted to dissolve the district's partnership with Arizona Christian University.
Up until now, degree students from Arizona Christian University have been able to perform their student teaching and practical coursework at the Washington Elementary School District's campuses. This arrangement, struck on Feb. 22, 2018, with the WESD proved so beneficial amid a national teaching shortage that district staff had requested that the board renew the arrangement with the university for another year.
However, newly elected board member Tamillia Valenzuela, a self-described "bilingual, disabled, neurodivergent Queer Black Latina" backed by Planned Parenthood, suggested she wouldn't feel safe bringing in "biblically minded" teachers from a Christian university who hadn't ideologically conformed to the satisfaction of LGBT activists.
Despite admitting that recruitment was "really difficult" in light of the nation's teacher shortage, Valenzuela intimated that it'd be better to suffer the absence of teachers than the presence of Christians.
"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," she added. "[The] institution has policies that are openly bigoted, and I will not sit here as a member of the community and let our children be subjected to that."
Gay school board member Kyle Clayton concurred, noting that "proselytizing is embedded into how they teach. And I just don't believe that that belongs in schools."
"My pause is not that they're Christians so much as this particular institution's strong anti-LGBTQ stance and their strong belief that you believe this to your core and you take it out into the world," added school board president and LGBT activist Nikkie Gomez-Whaley.
"We cannot continue to align ourselves with organizations that starkly contrast our values and say that we legitimately care about diversity, equity, and inclusion," added Gomez-Whaley.
The board ultimately voted unanimously 5-0 to end the contract, despite years without a single reported incident and 11 years of broader cooperation. There are presently 16 ACU students helping the talent-deprived district.
Community speaks out
KSAZ reported that amid heightened security and with dueling rallies outside — LGBT activists supporting the exclusion of Christians on one side and those advocating for inclusivity and freedom of religion on the other — community members opined on the decision.
A teacher speaking in support of the arrangement with ACU, identified as Laura Blakesly, reminded the board members that "all practicum students and student teachers are supervised directly by WESD teachers."
Holding back tears, Blakesly noted that "out of the dozens of practicum students I have had throughout my WESD teaching career, 16 of them have been from ACU. All 16 have taught lessons to my students under the direct supervision of myself or other mentor teachers at my school. All 16 have glowing reviews in regards to their instruction, strategies, and connections made with all students."
"Never at any time did our students feel unsafe or attacked, ever," added Blakesly.
A Guatemalan teacher in the district named Amy McFarlane noted that the board members had "committed an injustice against Arizona Christian University student teachers and their values. The board members didn't think about the repercussions of [their] discriminatory actions against those who are seeking for a common goal: providing an exemplary education based on respect and non-discrimination."
McFarlane added, "This is the message that you are and your followers are sending to all of our community. ... Whether you are a Christian worker, parent or a student, the Washington Elementary School District does not have a place for you."
Erica Smith, who has worked with the WESD for over 22 years, said the board's apparent discrimination against Christians "is uncalled for."
"For 11 years, we have had a positive relationship with ACU and hired some phenomenal teachers because of this partnership. Many of them I work with at Mountain Sky," said Smith. "But because they love their creator and hold values that aren't yours ... they're unworthy of the same arrangement that we have with other universities."
One community member noted that the decision was based on assumptions that were "totally biased" and asked Valenzuela whether she considered herself exempt from the WESD's policies on discrimination.
Clarissa Cosgrove said, "We need teachers. The teachers need help with their kids and stuff. Why not get them? What’s wrong with this?"
Another community member noted that students were rendered unsafe, not by Christian student teachers, but by the district's lockdowns, masking, and other draconian COVID policies.
Several more parents, teachers, and community members underscored that the board's decision was discriminatory, unconstitutional, and rooted in ignorance.
Valenzuela nevertheless reiterated her contempt for Christian student teachers, suggesting that their support for traditional Christian values lets students know "you're not a safe person for them to be around, that they cannot exist in their full humanity."
In her statements, Valenzuela invoked Christ and suggested those who disagreed with her had misinterpreted scripture.
ACU files suit
On Thursday, ACU filed a civil rights suit against the WESD and the board members.
The suit sates, "The School District's actions in terminating its agreement with Arizona Christian because of the religious status and beliefs of Arizona Christian and its students violated and continue to violate their constitutional rights to: a free exercise of religion; b. equal protection; c. free speech and expressive association; d. be free from unconstitutional retaliation; e. be free from religious favoritism and entanglement; and their rights under the Arizona FERA to: f. free exercise of religion."
With the suit, the university seeks to reinstate the agreement for the 2023-2024 school year; prohibit the defendants from discriminating against ACU and its students; and damages for the past and ongoing constitutional violation.
Additionally, ACU seeks punitive damages against the board members in their individual capacities only.
Governing Board Meeting, March 9, 2023 - Exec. Session at 6 p.m., Regular Meeting at 7 p.m.youtu.be
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