Washington Elementary School District (WESD) near Phoenix has reinstated its student teaching contract with Arizona Christian University (ACU) less than three months after abruptly terminating the partnership because of the university’s Biblical beliefs about marriage and sexuality.
The school district’s five board members had voted unanimously Feb. 23 to no longer provide ACU elementary education students with classroom teaching opportunities at elementary schools in Phoenix and Glendale, near where the university campus is located.
But the school district reversed its decision May 3, following a federal lawsuit filed in March by attorneys with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). The lawsuit noted that school district officials showed blatant hostility to ACU’s beliefs, questioning how one could “be committed to Jesus Christ” and yet, at the same time, respect LGBTQ students and board members. One board member even stated that the mere presence of ACU student-teachers would make some students—and herself—feel “unsafe.” Another stated she was “embarrassed” that she allowed the school district’s partnership with ACU to continue for so long.
“By discriminating against Arizona Christian University and denying it an opportunity to participate in the student-teacher program because of its religious status and beliefs, the school district was in blatant violation of the U.S. Constitution, not to mention state law that protects ACU’s religious freedom,” said ADF’s Senior Counsel and Vice President of U.S. Litigation, David Cortman, who argued in federal district court on behalf of ACU. “At a time when a critical shortage of qualified, caring teachers exists, the Washington Elementary School District board did the right thing by prioritizing the needs of elementary school children and agreeing to partner once again with ACU’s student-teachers.”
ACU President Len Munsil expressed his gratefulness for the renewal of an 11-year partnership with the school district that has enabled ACU students to meet their graduation requirements while providing the district free teaching assistance. About 25 students from the university have served as student teachers, and the school district has hired at least 17 teachers who attended the university.
“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,” Munsil stated in a press release. “We obtained everything we wanted in this new agreement, without any sacrifice or compromise to our beliefs and our university’s religious purpose. We look forward to a continued beneficial partnership that serves ACU student-teachers and the students, faculty, and staff of the WESD. And we are so grateful for the team at Alliance Defending Freedom for their excellent advocacy for our religious freedoms.”
As part of the settlement in Arizona Christian University v. Washington Elementary School District, the district also agreed to pay $25,000 in attorneys’ fees. The new student-teacher contract allows for an additional five years, to be renewed annually. In light of the favorable settlement, ADF attorneys representing ACU filed a voluntary dismissal of its case in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona on May 4.
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