The Washington Elementary School District voted last week to enter into a new agreement allowing students from Arizona Christian University (ACU) to teach in the district once again. The district also agreed to pay $25,000 in attorneys' fees.
Washington Elementary School District is located near the ACU campus in Glendale. But the school board voted unanimously in February to terminate its relationship with ACU over concerns about the school's religious beliefs on marriage and sexuality. That decision triggered a federal lawsuit arguing it violated the school's constitutionally protected freedoms.
"They made comments about how ACU student teachers could not respect LGBTQ students and how Arizona Christian's student teachers would make those elementary school students feel 'unsafe,'" attorney Jacob Reed of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the law firm representing ACU told AFN earlier this year.
According to ADF, one of the board members stated she was "embarrassed" that she allowed the district's partnership with ACU to continue for so long. ACU student teachers have been allowed to student-teach and shadow teachers in the district for the last 11 years.
"All of these comments were made without one single incident of any ACU student teacher ever violating a school district policy," the attorney added.
Reed argues the settlement should be a lesson for public school districts around the country.
"Every public-school board member takes an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States when they are elected, as did the school board members here. The reason is simple: they are the government; they owe an oath to the Constitution," he tells AFN.
"So, while this should alert other school officials around the country, it really is an unexceptional principle that the government cannot treat people of faith worse than everyone else, that they cannot discriminate against others simply because of their religious beliefs – and that's exactly what the school district did her."
The district's decision to enter into a new agreement with ACU came two months after the lawsuit was filed by ADF. It allows for an additional five years, to be renewed annually. ADF has filed a voluntary dismissal of it case against the district.
"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." (ACU President Len Munsil)