Thanks to the complaints of a cat-ear-wearing, “bilingual, disabled, neurodivergent Queer Black Latina” school board member, one Arizona school board has now terminated the district’s five-year contract with a Christian university.
Her name is Tamillia Valenzuela, and she’s a member of the Washington Elementary School Board which for years had a recruiting contract in place with Arizona Christian University.
The contract had enabled “student teachers to be placed in its schools for field experience” and “opened up opportunities for recruitment and hiring,” according to an exclusive report from Fox News.
Valenzuela has reportedly been a board member since at least December:
Before the winter break, newly elected Governing Board Members Kyle Clayton and Tamillia Valenzuela took the oath of office. Welcome to our new Governing Board members! #WESDFamily pic.twitter.com/gizmAex2aD
— WESD Schools (@WESDschools) December 31, 2022
Now flashback to February, when, during a school board hearing, Valenzuela began ranting and raving about Arizona Christian University’s Christian values.
“My concern is when I go to Arizona Christian University’s website, [they are] ‘committed to Jesus Christ, accomplishing his will and advancements on earth as in Heaven.’ 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 is sending to our community. Because that makes me feel like I could not be safe in this school district,” she said.
“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. Because if we’re bringing people in whose mission … above all else, it was 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?” she added.
She was joined in her complaints by Kyle Clayton, another new board member.
“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. Proselytizing is embedded into how they teach. And I just don’t believe that that belongs in schools,” he said.
Following these comments, the board voted on Feb. 23rd to terminate its relationship with Arizona Christian University, prompting massive backlash from elected leaders and the public.
I am requesting the immediate resignation of @WESDschools School Board Member Tamillia Valenzuela! Discrimination based on religious beliefs is wrong! #1A @AZSenateGOP @AZGOP @FoxNews @broomheadKTAR @shirysapir pic.twitter.com/sRtPqWabmu
— Anthony Kern (@anthonykernAZ) March 3, 2023
“Valenzuela is impugning the motives of teachers with certain religious beliefs. This is absolute discrimination… This ideology puts America’s First Amendment rights in jeopardy,” state Sen. Anthony Kern reportedly said during a meeting.
“There’s nothing more outrageous than religious prejudice,” Arizona State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne likewise told Fox News.
“Prejudice of all kinds have been responsible, in my opinion, for almost all of the evil in the history of humankind… I’m Jewish, and there’s an old Jewish expression here. ‘He who expects respect, has to give respect.’ And this is an absolutely outrageous violation of people’s religious rights,” he added.
Some parents also complained.
“Teachers are stretched so thin right now, doing the best they can. To turn people away based on deeply personally held beliefs is just wrong,” one parent told stations KPHO/KTVK.
Yet the board has its fair share of defenders too, including the Democrat Party, of course:
Press Release: Senate Democrats Extend Support to the Washington Elementary School District & Board Member Tamillia Valenzuela pic.twitter.com/vhb0FBxGHe
— Arizona Senate Democrats (@AZSenateDems) March 7, 2023
And including Jeanne Woodbury, the interim executive director of Equality Arizona.
“This isn’t about excluding anyone of faith from being a teacher in a public school. It’s about the legal problem of having a legal contract with religious institution,” she said to KPHO/KTVK, arguing that ACU’s beliefs violate the school’s non-discrimination policies.
Meanwhile, Washington Elementary School Board president Nikkie Gomez-Whaley issued a statement defending the board’s decision on the basis that the school district is meant to be secular, not religious.
“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,” she said.
“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,” she added.
As for Arizona Christian University, it released its own statement pushing back on the board’s decision, saying, “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.”
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