EXCLUSIVE – The Washington Elementary School district in Arizona faced a barrage of criticism for terminating a contract with a Christian university soon after several board members condemned the institution’s biblical beliefs, with the state superintendent claiming it was an example of “prejudice.”
The district had the contract in place with Arizona Christian University for five years, allowing its student teachers to be placed in its schools for field experience. The contract opened up opportunities for recruiting and hiring. On February 23, the board agreed to a proposal to dissolve the partnership with the Christian university shortly after several board members attacked the institution for its “commitment[ment] in Jesus Christ”, among others.
Arizona State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horn told Fox News Digital he believed it was an example of “bias.”
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“There is nothing more outrageous than religious prejudice,” he said. “Prejudice of all kinds is responsible, in my opinion, for almost all the evil in the history of mankind. . . . I am Jewish, and there is an old Jewish expression here. ‘He who expects respect must be respected.'” And this it is an absolutely outrageous violation of people’s religious rights.”
The board, on the other hand, told Fox News that it is “committed to creating a welcoming environment for all our students, families and staff” and that “we recognize the right of individuals to practice their faith, public schools they are secular institutions.”
The controversy erupted after comments made by board member Tamillia Valenzuela and another board member at a February meeting.
Valenzuela said, “My concern is when I go to the Arizona Christian University website, [they are] “devoted to Jesus Christ, fulfilling his will and his advances on earth as in Heaven.”
“At some point, we have to get real with ourselves and take a look at who we’re contracting with and the message we’re sending to our community. Because it makes me feel like I couldn’t be safe in that school district,” he said.
Valenzuela describes herself on the district’s website as “a bilingual, disabled, neurodeviant Queer Black Latina… who loves a good hot wing (but only with the right ranch) and things that sparkle.” He also often wears cat ears.
“I want to know how I bring [teachers] from an institution so rooted in its values so directly impacts three of your board members who are part of the LGBT community.”
“Because if we bring people into the mission whose [has]… it was with the training of their institution very clearly on their website … that above all it was to influence people to [be] Biblical thinking. How does this hold space for people of other faiths? How does this hold space for our members of the LGBT community? How does that fit with people who think differently and don’t share the same beliefs?’ asked.
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Arizona state Sen. Anthony Kern, R., blasted Valenzuela during a meeting and said, “Valenzuela is questioning the motivations of teachers with certain religious beliefs. This is the ultimate discrimination… This ideology endangers America’s First Amendment rights.”
School board member Kyle Clayton also faulted the university for “teaching through a biblical lens.”
“And I echo what Ms. Valenzuela said when … I looked at not only their core values, but their statement of faith… [which they] Ask their students to sign and live by,” he said. “Proselytism is built into how they teach. And I just don’t think that belongs in schools.”
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The board previously told Fox News that its decision was “based on the board’s commitment to creating a safe place for LGBTQ+ students, staff and our community,” which “includes not intentionally partnering with any organization that does explicitly discriminate against protected classes covered by our anti-discrimination policies’.
When Fox News followed up by asking for evidence of alleged “explici[t]”on discrimination, board president Nikkie Gomez-Whaley said they decline to provide further comment.
The university released a statement to Fox News Digital that it is exploring its options.
“The school board’s recent decision to ban ACU students from serving as student teachers was made for one reason only: our university’s commitment to our Christian beliefs. This is wrong, it is illegal, and it will only hurt the students of the district,” ACU President Len Munsil; he said.
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“Religious freedom and freedom of conscience are foundations of American principles. We are exploring our options to defend the rights of our students.”