School Board Member Harassed Over Board’s Unanimous Decision to End Contract With Anti-LGBTQ University

By Alyssa Bickle

March 8, 2023

“We remain open to partnering with faith-based organizations that share our commitment to equity & inclusion.”

Death threats, online harassment, and calls to resign by lawmakers spotted at the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol aren’t part of the job description for a school board member—but for Tamillia Valenzuela, the intimidation has become entangled with her service.

Valenzuela has faced death threats and a barrage of negative Tweets labeling her as a bad influence on children and a disgrace to the Washington Elementary School District. The source of ire comes from a unanimous vote by the board on Feb. 23 to not renew their contract with Arizona Christian University.

Despite all five board members voting not to renew, Valenzuela has received the brunt of the attacks against the board’s decision. Describing herself as a “bilingual, disabled, neurodivergent Queer, Black, Latina,” has been used as ammunition against her, with those in disagreement with the school board’s decision turning these traits into negative connotations. 

Ending a Five-Year Contract

For five years, WESD has brought student-teachers to their schools from Arizona Christian University. More than 100 students have come from ACE and worked in the district since 2018.

With students cut off from WESD, the largest elementary school district in Arizona, ACU will now need to find alternative student-teacher opportunities to fill in the gap.

Arizona Republican Sen. Anthony Kern called for Tamillia Valenzuela to immediately resign from the WESD Governing Board after Valenzuela made what he called discriminatory remarks about students from Arizona Christian University and people of the Christian faith. 

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“If she does not resign within the next 24 hours, I’m calling on the Washington Elementary School District Governing Board to remove her from her duties,” Kern stated in the March 3 press release.

Kern said Valenzuela called into question the motives of teachers with certain religious beliefs. 

Why the Contract Was Terminated

In her remarks during the school board meeting, Valenzuela claimed that ACU’s website shows the university aims to influence people to be biblically-minded. 

While ACU’s website does not mention anything about influencing people to be biblically-minded, it does state core commitments that include grounding students “firmly in the truth through a biblical worldview.”

ACU’s website further states that their students promote “biblically informed values” such as “traditional sexual morality and lifelong marriage between one man and one woman.”

These stated values by the university, along with ACU’s “mission to influence, engage and transform the culture with truth by promoting the biblically informed values that are foundational to Western civilization,” are what Valenzuela found to be alarming. 

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During the meeting, Valenzuela also identified ACU’s values and mission as being in violation of Washington Elementary School District’s values. 

“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 that is sending to our community,” Valenzuela said. “Because that makes me feel like I could not be safe in this school district. That makes other queer kids who are already facing attack from our lawmakers, that they could not be safe in this community.” 

Valenzuela’s remarks were echoed by WESD Governing Board President Nikkie Gomez-Whaley, who also voted to end the contract with ACU.

“While we recognize the right of individuals to practice their faith, public schools are secular institutions,” Gomez-Whaley said in a statement. “To that end, the board unanimously voted to discontinue its partnership with Arizona Christian University (ACU) whose policies do not align with our commitment to create a safe place for our LGBTQ+ students, staff, and community.” 

Gomez-Whaley emphasized that the decision was not, “a rejection of any particular faith as we remain open to partnering with faith-based organizations that share our commitment to equity & inclusion.”

The governing board is scheduled to meet again on Thursday evening. 

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  • Alyssa Bickle

    Alyssa Bickle is an affordability and LGBTQ+ reporting intern for The Copper Courier. She expects to graduate in May 2024 with degrees in journalism and political science and a minor in urban and metropolitan studies. She has reported for Cronkite News and The State Press and is an assistant research analyst at ASU’s Center for Latina/os and American Politics Research.

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