Phoenix-Area School District Renews Contract With University That Opposes Gay Marriage

By Alyssa Bickle

May 22, 2023

Arizona Christian University students can once again participate in Washington Elementary School District’s student-teacher program, after a $25,0000 lawsuit cleared the way of the unanimous school board decision terminating the program in February.

Washington Elementary School District (WESD)—the largest elementary school district in Arizona—decided during a special meeting on May 3 to continue to work with Arizona Christian University (ACU) in a student-teacher program.

This came after Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a lawsuit on behalf of ACU against the school district on March 9, following the school board’s unanimous decision at a Feb. 23 school district board meeting to reject their renewal agreement with ACU’s student teacher placements.

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

ADF is a conservative Christian legal advocacy group based in Scottsdale. The organization filed a lawsuit in November to block abortion pill access.

The WESD school board originally voted not to renew the district’s agreement with ACU due to the university’s stance on marriage–which includes a “statement of faith” that all students sign, stating that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.

The university cited religious discrimination and violation of the university’s constitutionally protected freedoms. ADF also mentioned that there have been no complaints about any ACU students that have worked at any of WESD’s 32 elementary schools.

The two parties mutually agreed to resolve their dispute, which was approved by the WESD Governing Board on May 3, according to a WESD press release.

“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,” said Governing Board President Nikkie Gomez-Whaley in the press release.

As part of the settlement, WESD agreed to pay $25,000 in attorneys’ fees to ACU, according to an ADF statement.

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“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,” ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of US Litigation David Cortman said in the statement.

In April, ACU asked for a court order stating WESD cannot refuse any future agreement with ACU and asked for a preliminary ruling from a judge to require the WESD School Board to agree to a 2023-24 student teacher contract, AZCentral reported.

The original agreement between ACU and WESD allowed ACU students to receive academic credit and gain educational experience.

More than 100 students have served in WESD and the agreement helped ease a worsening teacher shortage, Fox 10 Phoenix reported.

School Board Member Faced Threats

After the board’s decision to part ways with ACU, WESD Governing Board Member Tamillia Valenzuela faced death threats and a barrage of negative tweets labeling her as a bad influence on children and a disgrace to the district.

Although all five school board members voted not to renew ACU’s agreement with the school district, Valenzuela overwhelmingly faced the brunt of negativity. 

Arizona Republican Sen. Anthony Kern called for Valenzuela to immediately resign from the board after Valenzuela made what he called discriminatory remarks about Christians.

Valenzuela’s description of herself as a “bilingual, disabled, neurodivergent Queer, Black, Latina,” has been used as ammunition against her, as many of the attacks that resulted were primarily anti-LGBT and anti-Black.

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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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