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LGBTQ Members of AZ School Board Ban Christian Student-Teachers

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An Arizona public school board recently voted to end its partnership with Arizona Christian University (ACU) which had supplied student-teachers to the district for the past 11 years. 

The reason? The student-teachers Christian faith was deemed to be a threat to LGBTQ students. 

The Washington Elementary School District has 32 schools located in and around Phoenix and Glendale. The contract renewal with ACU was a routine item, put on the district's Feb. 23 consent agenda with a recommendation from the administration that it be renewed, according to AZ Central

But when it came time to discuss the ACU contract, three of the school board's five members who identify as members of the LGBTQ community called for the contract not to be renewed. They argued that having student teachers with biblical values in the state's largest and one of the best elementary school districts would pose too much of a threat to LGBT students, according to The Christian Post. (CP)

slider img 2Board member Tamillia Valenzuela who wore cat ears on her head during the meeting, spoke out against the university for its Christian beliefs, first reported by Fox News

"At some point, we need to get real with ourselves and take a look who we are making legal contracts with and the message that that is sending to our community because that makes me feel like I could not be safe in this school district," Valenzuela, who identifies as a "bilingual, disabled, neurodivergent Queer Black Latina," told her fellow board members. "That makes queer kids who are already facing attack from our lawmakers feel that they could not be safe in this community."

"Part of their values is... {to} 'transform the culture with truth by promoting the 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,'" she said.

Valenzuela noted the current teacher shortage, but also said she had concerns over how ACU was "committed to Jesus Christ, accomplishing his will and advancements on earth as in Heaven."

She also pointed to the teaching of biblical values of family, sexual morality, and lifelong marriage between one man and one woman. 

"I want to know how bringing {teachers} from an institution that is ingrained in their values so directly brings impact to three of your board members who are a part of the LGBT community," Valenzuela continued. 

Board member Kyle Clayton also chimed in against the Christian college for "teaching with a Biblical lens."

"I, too, echo what Ms. Valenzuela said when I… looked into not only their core values, but the statement of faith… {which they} ask their students to sign and live by," Clayton said.

"Proselytizing is embedded into how they teach. And I just don't believe that that belongs in schools," he told the board. 

Board President Nikkie Gomez-Whaley agreed with Clayton, noting the board has received several emails from members of the community asking the board not to renew the partnership with ACU. She said she didn't believe Christian student teachers could separate their values from their professional duties, making them unable to treat students equally, according to the CP

"For me, this is not a concern about Christianity, there are plenty of Christian denominations who are LGBTQ-friendly. So, I want to make it clear that, for me, my pause is not that they're Christian 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," Gomez-Whaley said.

"I simply don't know how a piece of paper can change somebody's underlying value system. Even though they may not … do anything illegal, where they are preaching or using Bible verses, how do you shut off an essential part of your being, and not be biased to the individuals in which you are in charge of nurturing and supporting unconditionally?" the board president asked. "I don't see how that disconnect is possible."

It was noted in the school board meeting that all student-teachers had to sign legal agreements that prevent them from discriminating against any student, according to the CP

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In an emailed statement to CBN News, ACU President Len Munsil said: "For years Arizona Christian University has partnered with the Washington Elementary School District. More than 100 ACU students have served the district, including 25 student teachers, many of whom were hired full-time after graduation," Munsil said. "Administrators have time and again asked us to send more ACU students because of the quality of our student's work and their love and servant's hearts for all."

"The school board's recent decision to ban ACU students from serving as student teachers was done for one reason only: our University's commitment to our Christian convictions," he continued. "That's wrong, it's unlawful, and will only hurt the district's students."

"Religious liberty and freedom of conscience are bedrock American principles. We are exploring our options to defend the rights of our students," the ACU president concluded. 

In an emailed statement to CBN News, WESD Governing Board President Nikkie Gomez-Whaley, on behalf of the board, said: "The Washington Elementary School District (WESD) Governing Board is committed to creating a welcoming environment for all our students, families, and staff. While we recognize the right of individuals to practice their faith, public schools are secular institutions. 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."

"This is not a rejection of any particular faith as we remain open to partnering with faith-based organizations that share our commitment to equity & inclusion," Gomez-Whaley added. 

'This Is Discrimination' 

In an op-ed published by AZ Central, Laurie Roberts, a columnist for The Arizona Republic wrote, "In other words, it's OK to discriminate against an entire class of people – in this case, the students at Arizona Christian University – because you think one or more of them might display a bias against an LGBTQ student?"

Some teachers told Roberts a successful program tailored for children with behavioral issues had also been shut down by the school board because it was operated by a faith-based group. The columnist also reported the same teachers expected the board next to target student teachers from Grand Canyon University, another private Christian school. 

"There was no basis for it," Lisa Hayes, who has taught in the district for 11 years, told Roberts. "Nothing has happened that should have initiated this, except for their (the school board members') hypothetical ideas. This is discrimination, and it's disappointing and disheartening in such a diverse school district that has always celebrated its diversity."

"The WESD School board has no proof that a student teacher or teacher from Arizona Christian University or Grand Canyon University has ever violated district policy state or federal policy regarding separation of church and state," Julie Stark, who has taught in the district for 27 years told Roberts. "This is discrimination against all employees of faith, especially those who are Christian."

"Certainly against those who attend a certain Christian college," Roberts wrote

"Flip it around and see how it sounds," she continued. 

"Would it be OK for another school district to enact a policy against hiring an entire class of people – say, teachers who are LGBTQ – out of some fear that one or more of them might make a student uncomfortable?" Roberts asked. 

"I'm going to assume here that I don't really need to answer that question. Discrimination is ugly, no matter who's doing it," she concluded. 

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About The Author

Steve Warren is a senior multimedia producer for CBN News. Warren has worked in the news departments of television stations and cable networks across the country. In addition, he also worked as a producer-director in television production and on-air promotion. A Civil War historian, he authored the book The Second Battle of Cabin Creek: Brilliant Victory. It was the companion book to the television documentary titled Last Raid at Cabin Creek currently streaming on Amazon Prime. He holds an M.A. in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and a B.A. in Communication from the University of