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Arizona couple says child's school is discriminating against them because they're gay

classroom school AP
Posted at 10:06 AM, Feb 21, 2023

QUEEN CREEK, Ariz. (KNXV) — Imagine being told you're not welcome at your daughter's school with the person you've chosen to spend your life with.

That's what one Valley dad says is happening to him, so he reached out to ABC15 for answers.

"I did it right in front of the castle," says Jose, about his Disneyland proposal to his husband, Don. It was a storybook beginning for what they both had hoped would be a fairy tale ending.

"It's great - sharing your life with someone," says Jose.

And when Jose proposed to Don more than a decade ago, he was also asking for Don's daughter's hand as well.

"I welcomed her with open arms...I always wanted to be a dad, so it was like my dream come true in a way."

But Jose says things outside the home are anything but a dream come true, especially at their daughter's new school, Heart Cry Christian Academy in Queen Creek. Don explains that because of a court order, his ex-wife gets to pick which school their daughter attends.

"I was disappointed because she was very happy where she was," explains Don.

But something else disappointed Don and Jose even more. It was when they went to the school for a tour and wanted to add Jose as an emergency contact, since he is her stepfather. They say that's when the trouble began with the school's pastor.

"He immediately expressed his feelings and immediately questioned our relationship, says Jose. "He just didn't agree with our relationship and who we are as gay people. He made us feel very uncomfortable almost immediately."

Jose goes on to explain the school's pastor told them they couldn't be on campus together and that Jose wasn't welcomed at all.

"He told us we weren't welcomed there, that we couldn't be seen together because the children...he didn't want the children to be confused with our relationship. and he said that he built that school specifically for the children to stay away from people like us."

ABC15 reached out to the school several times last week. The school called us back last Tuesday and said they had no comment.

Hope Kirsch, an education attorney based in Scottsdale, who was also a teacher and administrator, says the law is actually on the school's side in this case.

"There will be people out there who see what this school did as wrong. They are outraged, and they can't believe it. But as the law stands today, what they did was not illegal?" ABC15's Nick Ciletti asked.

"Right. And there will be parents who will applaud the school, too," Kirsh said.

Kirsch says it's all because the school happens to be a private institution and can essentially make its own rules and doesn't have to follow certain regulations.

"As reprehensible as it may be to some, it was legal. I'm not here to give a judgment. I'm here to tell you the parochial school can do what it did, as could any private school."

Don and Jose describe the experience as "heartbreaking."

"We are so involved in her life," says Jose. "So for us, to not be able to be involved only makes us look like we are the bad parents or that we don't care about her...I would love the discrimination to stop. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with religious schools - if they're going to be a religious school, they need to act like they're a religious school. And accept everybody and welcome everybody."

Where do things stand?

Don says the Arizona Attorney General's Office reached out to him last week and they would like to look into this case. ABC15 reached out to the AG's office as well; we were told they cannot comment due to confidentiality reasons.

ABC15 also reached out to the Arizona Department of Education which tells us that they are not taking up the case and instead, told us it is a matter for the courts.

Kirsch suggested the couple take this up in family court to possibly re-negotiate the court agreement and get an equal say in where their daughter attends school.

ABC15 also reached out to Don's ex-wife for comment but did not hear back.

And what about the school receiving ESA dollars? On the Heart Cry Christian Academy website, we observed a pop-up that says they accept money from Arizona's empowerment scholarship program. Hope says that despite the fact that this is essentially taxpayer money, that has no bearing in this case, especially because the state gives the money to parents first, and from there, parents chose how to disseminate the funds.