The Phoenix-area Washington Elementary School District (WESD) settled a lawsuit with Arizona Christian University that claimed the district discriminated against the school on the basis of religion when it refused to renew a contract with ACU for student teachers.
Attorneys with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a federal lawsuit in March, alleging that WESD violated the university’s First Amendment rights with its religious hostility, discriminated against ACU on the basis of religion, and violated the school’s freedoms of speech and association.
ADF recently announced that the school district had settled with the university and would “enter a new agreement allowing ACU students to teach in the district once again.” The agreement “allows for an additional five years, to be renewed annually.”
The case was settled just two months after being filed, and ADF said that “the district also agreed to pay $25,000 in attorneys’ fees.”
For eleven years, Arizona Christian University students worked with WESD as part of the university’s elementary education program, student teaching and shadowing teachers.
But in February, as the Daily Citizen, reported, the five WESD governing members voted not to renew their partnership with ACU, citing the university’s core commitments to Jesus Christ and to a biblical view of marriage.
There had never been any complaints against student teachers or alumnus from ACU, at least seventeen of whom were later hired as teachers by the district.
School board member Tamillia Valenzuela, described on the WESD website as a “bilingual, disabled, neurodivergent Queer Black Latina,” said she felt like, “I could not be safe in this school district.”
ACU President Len Munsil commented on the settlement, saying:
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. 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.”
ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of U.S. Litigation David Cortman argued the case in federal district court. He stated:
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.
ADF touted the victory, saying, “It’s a win for elementary students, religious freedom, and common sense.”
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