Arizona Christian University has taken legal action against Washington Elementary School District for ending its student-teacher contract due to the university’s religious beliefs.
For over a decade, the university and the school district have both benefited from university students teaching at schools in Phoenix and in Glendale, where the university campus is located. While university students have gained in-classroom experience to meet graduation requirements, the school district has received free teaching assistance. Over the past 11 years, 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 partnership came to an abrupt termination after the school district’s five board members unanimously voted on Feb. 23 to permanently stop working with Arizona Christian University.
Despite a national teacher shortage, the board members said they believe the district’s students would be better off without ACU’s student-teachers due to a “stark contrast” in values between the university and school district. The board members cited concerns that the university’s Biblical stance on marriage and sexuality could cause some LGBTQ students to feel unsafe or students with LGBTQ family members to be ashamed.
The school district had reportedly received no complaints about any ACU students or alumnus.
The lawsuit asserts that in terminating the contract with Arizona Christian University, the school district has demonstrated unconstitutional religious hostility. “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 is in blatant violation of the U.S. Constitution, not to mention state law that protects ACU’s religious freedom,” said Senior Counsel David Cortman of Alliance Defending Freedom, the non-profit legal organization representing Arizona Christian University.
“Washington Elementary School District officials are causing irreparable harm to ACU every day they force it to choose between its religious beliefs and partnering with the area’s public schools.”
Since the initial school board meeting, there has been an uproar from the community and social media regarding the decision. More than 100 people gathered for a more recent school board meeting to show their opinions of either support or frustration over the partnership termination.
Linnea Lyding, ACU’s dean of the Shelly Roden School of Education and the School of Arts, Science & Humanities, said that she hopes the partnership will be restored.
“Our university students pursuing teaching careers bring respect, kindness, and excellence to the elementary classrooms,” she said. “We certainly hope we can continue our partnership with this district for the benefit of the elementary children in our community and for our student-teachers.”
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