A school district in Arizona had been partnering with a local Christian college to supply recently graduated teachers for more than a decade, but the relationship was abruptly severed after an outburst by one school board member.
According to Timillia Valenzuela, hiring teachers who received an education at Arizona Christian University would make non-Christian students and faculty somehow feel unsafe or unwelcome.
Meanwhile, Valenzuela had no qualms about how the terms she uses to identify herself — “queer” and “witchy,” among others — might make those in the school district feel.
At the time, she paid lip service to the importance of religious freedom, but asked how “biblically minded” teachers would “hold space for our members of the LGBT community” and “people who think differently and do not have the same beliefs.”
Despite her assertion that it has been “really difficult” to recruit educators, Valenzuela contended that it would be better to continue struggling through a teacher shortage than to hire graduates from ACU.
The university responded to the district’s decision to end the partnership by filing a religious discrimination suit. ACU came out on top in court, and about two months after the ordeal started, the school board agreed to a settlement that included $25,000 in legal fees and the re-implementation of the former agreement.
Over the course of the 11 years that the Washington Elementary School District recruited from ACU, the university provided 25 student teachers and 17 graduates who went on to work for the district. Each one reportedly signed the same non-discrimination agreement that all other teachers were bound to uphold and there were apparently no complaints during that time about any of those teachers violating the policies.
Alliance Defending Freedom represented the university in its lawsuit and argued that the board “showed blatantly hostility to ACU’s beliefs” by suggesting that it would be impossible for graduates to “be committed to Jesus Christ” while still respecting those of other faiths and members of the LGBT community.
Congrats to @ADFLegal and @ACU_AZ for taking a brave stand.
“Washington Elementary School District will enter into a new agreement with the Arizona Christian University that will allow ACU student-teachers to teach at WESD school once again.” https://t.co/IfH34yrl7s
— Thomas Galvin (@ThomasGalvin) May 5, 2023
ACU President Len Munsil issued a statement celebrating the latest development, writing: “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.”