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Arizona school board rightly ends contract with anti-LGBTQ Christian college
The Washington Elementary School District will no longer bring on student teachers from the anti-LGBTQ Arizona Christian University
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For five years, the board of the Washington Elementary School District had a contract allowing Arizona Christian University to supply them with student teachers.
It’s the sort of agreement that school districts around the country have with various colleges, allowing the colleges to give first-hand teaching experience to their students under the supervision of working educators. At the moment, there are five students from ACU working in the district along with 11 others who are just shadowing teachers.
That contract is now up for renewal, and the school board decided on February 23 that they would end their working relationship after the end of this school year. It was a unanimous vote.
Board member Tamillia Valenzuela, who wasn’t on the board when the contract was first signed, made the motion to end the partnership. She rightly pointed out that the district’s values don’t align with ACU’s and a teacher shortage shouldn’t override the message they want to send to students. (1:08:29 mark in the video below)
For example, ACU promotes “traditional sexual morality and lifelong marriage between one man and one woman.” The school district, on the other hand, actually cares for its LGBTQ students. ACU’s goal is to promote and spread Christianity. The school district respects religious diversity among its student body.
… Are we only performing performative solidarity? Or are we going to dig deep and actually look at the partnerships that we're doing?
Because if we're bringing people in whose mission—who have been told with their institution of education… that, above all else… is to influence people to be biblically minded, how does that hold space for people of other faiths? How does that hold space for our members of the LGBT community? How does that hold space for people who think differently and do not have the same beliefs?
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. 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.
All of those are fair points. If the district claims to respect its students regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or religious beliefs, then signs a contract with a Christian school whose ideal world would put LGBTQ people and non-Christians in danger, how seriously does this board take its values?
Another board member, Kyle Clayton, chimed in to agree. He added that “proselytizing is embedded into how they teach,” which worried him as a gay man.
… it just takes one off the cuff comment, one moment, to then have trauma for a child that's already vulnerable, already experienced trauma, and it… could last the rest of their life.
Another board member pointed out (correctly, I would say) that just because their values don’t align, the student teachers would still be obligated to follow the district’s policies, not their own faith-based ones, when they’re working at the schools. Was ACU aware of that? Did any of this bother them? (There was no good answer.)
Board President Nikki Gomez-Whaley noted that the possible decision to cease the partnership was not about Christianity. It was about bigotry:
…. 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 [must] believe this to your core and you take it out into the world.
And 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? So I don't see how that disconnect is possible.
This is where I feel the board is on shaky ground. It’s entirely possible to work with a Christian school that opposes LGBTQ rights under the condition that student teachers may not use their positions to spread that anti-LGBTQ message to the kids in their care while working for the district. You’re in our house; you have to follow our rules. Again, there’s no proof that any of ACU’s inherent hatred has seeped into the public school classrooms.
But there’s also no legal obligation to renew a contract with ACU. The board voted to end the partnership after this school year—something they have every right to do—and that ought to be the end of it.
Of course that wasn’t the end of it. After word got back to right-wing propaganda outlets, those websites immediately acted like these board members were anti-Christian.
The misleading article on FOX’s website ran with a headline saying the board wanted to “reject hiring teachers with Christian values.” They didn’t specify which values for a reason: It’s a lot easier to pretend these people are anti-Christian instead of honestly saying they’re just anti-bigotry.
Staff stenographer Hannah Grossman, rather than limit her article to what the board members said, decided to go after the biography of the member who made the motion to dissolve the agreement:
An Arizona school board member wearing cat ears during a meeting said she would oppose having a contract with a Christian university over the religious and Biblical beliefs they espouse, Fox News Digital found.
[Tamillia] Valenzuela describes herself as "a bilingual, disabled, neurodivergent Queer Black Latina… who loves a good hot wing (but only with the right ranch) and things that sparkle."
What all of that has to do with the substance of their discussion is anyone’s guess. It’s just red meat for the religious bigots who read that website. (Valenzuela did not respond to my request for comment.)
Other conservative outlets have also taken the bait, focusing purely on her look and falsely claiming this was a decision rooted in anti-Christian hate. The New York Post republished Grossman’s article with a more explicit headline:
A local ABC affiliate, WCTI, which is owned by conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group, was less inflammatory but threw in a detail about how Valenzuela “refused to stand for the pledge of allegiance during the Feb. 23 board meeting.” As if that has anything to do with the issue at hand.
And Christian website The Stream ignored all nuance entirely with this false headline:
That’s a lie for multiple reasons. Working with student teachers has nothing to do with the hiring process. And at no point did the school board suggest they shouldn’t work with Christian teachers. Nancy Flory, Ph.D., the senior editor at The Stream who wrote that article, is lying because, apparently, nothing in her religion ever taught her that was wrong.
Apologists for Christian bigotry also perpetuated the lie:
Arizona Christian University, as expected, responded to all of this by pretending to be persecuted.
"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… That's wrong, it’s unlawful, and it will only hurt the district’s students."
Notice that ACU also doesn’t specify which “Christian” values we’re talking about because they’re trying to rile up extremely gullible believers. They know honesty isn’t going to work in their favor, so the ACU spokesperson told a half-truth instead. No one cares of the student teachers are Christians. But if a school makes a point of promoting anti-LGBTQ beliefs, as ACU does, then no public school district should be volunteering to work with them.
There’s nothing “unlawful” about that.
(Featured image via Shutterstock)