The Peoria Unified School District (PUSD) is facing a lawsuit from one of its own board members after prohibiting her from quoting Scripture during meetings.
The First Liberty Institute filed the lawsuit on Tuesday on behalf of board member Heather Rooks.
The lawsuit noted that public officials have a storied history of quoting Scripture and using religious references to solemnize public occasions, opening with President Joe Biden’s citation of the Book of Isaiah in his 2021 address to the nation following his withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. Accordingly, Rooks defended her Scripture citations as a continuation of a longstanding American tradition.
“Heather Rooks isn’t a famous historical figure or a household name, but she too wants to be part of the longstanding tradition of government officials solemnizing public occasions in this way,” stated the lawsuit. “To vindicate her statutory and constitutional rights as a Board member and citizen, Rooks respectfully brings this action to declare those rights — and to dispel the confusion that has regrettably clouded a practice as old as the Republic itself.”
Rooks joined the board in January. From her first board meeting until the district ordered her to stop in July, Rooks made it a regular practice of hers to cite Scripture as part of her comments to the public.
The lawsuit noted that after PUSD received a complaint from Secular Communities for Arizona about Rooks’ recitation of Scripture in February, the board’s legal counsel advised board members in an email that they couldn’t pray or recite Scripture during meetings because it allegedly violated the Establishment Clause.
Rooks was one of two board members chastised by district counsel for quoting the Bible during board meetings. The other board member, Rebecca Hill, resigned last month.
Prior to Hill’s resignation, the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) threatened to sue PUSD in May if Hill and Rooks didn’t cease their religious speech.
“While board members are free to promote their personal religious beliefs however they wish in their personal capacities outside of the school board, as government officials they cannot be allowed to commandeer the board in order to impose their personal religious beliefs on district students, parents, and employees,” stated FFRF.
Around the time of the lawsuit threat, PUSD held a public presentation warning against Scripture readings. The presentation was reportedly shared later with staff and parents.
Andy Gould, senior counsel at First Liberty, said in a press release that Rooks’ use of the Bible was part of a historical American tradition.
“Heather takes her responsibilities serving the parents and students in her community seriously, and quotes Bible verses as a source of courage and strength in performing those duties,” said Gould. “Like so many dedicated public leaders throughout our history, Heather most certainly can use inspirational quotes from religious, historical, and philosophical sources and figures as a source of personal inspiration, as well as encouragement to the community at-large.”
Rooks stated in the press release that she was grateful for her membership on the PUSD board, and that Scripture serves as a source of encouragement.
“As a member of the school board, I understand the weight and significance of all of our decisions, and simply find quoting scripture out loud to be encouraging to myself and to many in attendance,” said Rooks.
A west valley mayor is continuing to keep his commitments to his city.
Last week, Peoria Mayor Jason Beck announced that there would be a police presence at all Peoria Unified School District schools during the 2023-2024 year.
Beck highlighted that there would be four new SLO’s (School Liaison Officers) and rotating SLO’s at every school; that this presence would be expanded to all elementary schools; that there would be 22 Peoria schools with police coverage and an increase in SLO salary.
The mayor said, “It’s the fact that we are trying to take care of our kids. Our first priority as a city is to take care of the residents. Safety and well being is our first priority.”
Peoria’s increased investment in school safety followed a communication from the first-year mayor in the city’s May 2023 newsletter, where he updated residents on his plan for keeping children safe. Beck wrote, “As Mayor, I believe the first priority of our city is to ensure that the kids, teachers and staff of the Peoria Unified School District not only feel safe, but are safe while in and around schools and associated facilities. Likewise, parents and loved ones should be able to have peace of mind that this is always the case. With this in mind, there should be nothing more important in our city’s budget than providing for the protection of our kids, teachers and staff while allowing them to have a great educational experience and positive work environment.”
Mayor Beck concluded his letter, stating, “No one should pit the skills, dedication, and good intentions of these wonderful public servants against one another. The choice is not between social workers, counselors, and law enforcement. We need an all-of-the above approach to show our children and community that we value safety and education for the happiness and prosperity of our community.”
The action to provide additional school safety personnel for Peoria schools comes on the heels of an earlier announcement from Mayor Beck on funding for the city’s police pension funding. In a Facebook post, Beck noted that the Peoria City Council had moved $6 million to the police pension funding, which was now 80% funded – compared to 48% funded in 2020.
Earlier this year, Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne and the Arizona Department of Education released the findings of a poll, which found that “81% of Arizona Public School parents support having a police officer” and “78% of Arizona Public School parents think that safety at schools is VERY IMPORTANT.”
Horne held an April press conference with Arizona legislators to address this issue. The group called on school boards “to support having an officer at every school and to apply for funding through an available school safety grant.”
After that press conference, Senator T.J. Shope added, “While we certainly see the value in school counselors as a component to safe and healthy schools, we believe SROs (school resource officers) are a necessity in this day and age where we’re witnessing increasing school shootings across the country. SROs can also help detour gang activity as they foster positive relationships with students.”
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.
Peoria Unified School District (PUSD) Board President David Sandoval and Board Members Bill Sorensen and Melissa Ewing have effectively silenced all women and girls on school grounds.
Despite hearing concerns from countless community members, the trio remains calloused and uninterested in resolving the bathroom crisis. Discussions and actions taken during board meetings tell the story of an agenda-driven district that couldn’t care less about the well-being of its students.
Of course, district leadership was always aware that a cross-dressing male student at Liberty High School regularly used girls’ bathrooms for social media photo-ops. By siding with the disturbed teenager, Sandoval, Sorensen, and Ewing lost all sense of moral decency and respect for half of PUSD’s student population.
No one knows exactly when the district started allowing biological males into female spaces. Formal communication was never provided to the public. Thus, parents were forced to wade through rumors and speculation while relying on reports from their children. It’s possible the district concealed this dangerous practice for nefarious purposes.
In December 2022, Executive Director of Education, Christina Lopezlira, received advice from the district’s attorney to inform administrators about “emerging practices for supporting transgender students.” If parents or students object to the new guidelines, Lopezlira wrote that PUSD must “amicably address the competing interests and rights.” By February 2023, Director of Information Systems, Jill Thompson, relayed that the Synergy upgrade included an option to record students’ preferred pronouns.
PUSD’s willingness to hide this information reveals a blatant disregard for the law and a particular disdain for familial bonds. There’s no length the administration won’t go to overthrow parental rights under Arizona’s Revised Statutes. It’s conceivable the district will soon pursue policy guidance on gender transitioning and clinical referrals without parental knowledge or consent.
Before casting her vote on April 27, Hill stated: “I understand we’ve had multiple instances at Liberty High School where a young man has been allowed to enter the girls’ bathrooms based on his claim that he identifies as a female. The fact that the district has allowed these actions to continue unabated—without establishing an accommodation or implementing appropriate consequences—is both irresponsible and unfathomable…”
Rooks followed suit stating that she had listened to multiple concerns from parents and students while district leaders remained silent on the issue. “It’s very disappointing that this has been going on [and] parents were not made aware of it. I think every parent in this district has a right to know what we are doing with their kids…and I think we need to move forward with this policy,” Rooks said.
Ewing justified her opposition, “If you look at our incident reports in [PUSD], and the narrative about assaults in the bathroom, it has not come as the result of a transgender-identified student. There is not a single incident that has happened. And if you look at the nationwide data, that does not show it as well. As board members, we need to be making sure that we are making data-driven decisions.”
It’s unclear whether Ewing was truly unaware or willfully ignorant of the landmark case in Loudoun County, Virginia. In 2021, a male student—who identified as gender fluid and frequently utilized girls’ facilities—sexually assaulted two female students. A grand jury later found district administrators “failed at every juncture” to properly report the violent crimes, and school board members were “deliberately deprived of information” until the second incident occurred.
Sandoval and Ewing maintained that their votes align with Title IX while Sorensen flat out refused to explain his position. During the June 22 board meeting, one parent’s criticisms finally compelled Sorensen to respond, “What I can tell you is that I was convinced that people don’t really want to listen…the end vote is ultimately what mattered.”
Although Sorenson agreed he could have been more transparent during the voting process, he figured that inclusive isn’t a “bad word” and the policy proposed by Rooks and Hill was “too restrictive.”
PUSD is increasingly becoming a dangerous place for children. If the administration can secretly change a student’s pronouns while advocating for shared private spaces, what’s next? Where are the boundaries?
How much control will the majority of the board take from parents and give to the public education system?
For nearly two decades, Tiffany Benson’s creative writing pursuits have surpassed all other interests. When she’s not investigating Kennedy Assassination conspiracy theories, she enjoys journaling and contributing to her blogBigviewsmallwindow.com. Follow her on Twitter andTruth Social @WritingWoman84.
A west valley school district governing board declined to take proactive measures against males or females using bathrooms of the opposite sex, and many parents are outraged.
Last week, the Peoria Unified School District (PUSD) Governing Board voted to reject a “motion to direct administration to prepare the first draft of a facility use policy for PUSD student bathrooms and locker rooms.” That motion was offered by board member Rebecca Hill and seconded by Heather Rooks. Board members David Sandoval, Bill Sorensen, and Melissa Ewing voted to sink the motion.
According to PUSD, “the District does not currently have a Governing Board policy regarding bathroom or locker room use, and the purpose of this agenda item was to determine whether or not the Governing Board should adopt a formal policy that limits the use of bathrooms and locker rooms based on biological sex.”
Rebecca Hill, the PUSD member who brought the motion, told her colleagues and the attendees in the crowded meeting space that during her tenure on the Peoria Unified School Board, “there has never been an issue more important to me than the one at hand tonight.” She appealed to the other board members, saying, “as leaders of this district, it is incumbent upon us to implement a policy that upholds common decency and respects the right to privacy that both our girls and boys are entitled to when using campus restrooms, locker rooms and any other private facility at our schools.”
Hill informed the audience she was of the understanding that there were multiple instances at Liberty High School in Peoria, where a young man has been allowed to enter the girls’ bathrooms based on his claim that he identifies as a female. She argued, “the fact that the district has allowed these actions to continue unabated without establishing an accommodation or implementing appropriate consequences is both irresponsible and unfathomable.”
Heather Rooks, Hill’s ally in this issue before the board, agreed with her colleague, stating that she had been dealing with this for months and hearing from parents and girls in the district. Rooks charged that parents were not made aware of the situations of boys in girls’ restrooms, adding, “Every parent in our district has a right to know what we are doing with their kids each day.” She also spoke in defense of the girls who had raised concerns over these alleged instances of boys in their restrooms, making the case that it is not wrong of girls to feel uncomfortable or to use their natural instincts when seeing biological males in women’s restrooms.
A West Valley lawmaker, State Senator Anthony Kern, attended the meeting and shared his thoughts on Twitter following the board’s lack of action to initiate the policy, writing, “Three Democrats on the Peoria Unified board meeting last night voted down protecting girls from predators in girls’ bathrooms.” He included the hashtags “Vote the Democrats Out” and “Home School” as his solutions to this decision from the board.
Republican Tom Horne, Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, was closely following this contentious meeting and subsequent outcome, telling AZ Free News his “prediction is that many parents will not want their daughters to attend a school where biological males can come into the girls’ restrooms.” He said he had “received many texts and emails from parents who say their daughters were very upset when this happened.”
After seeing her motion end up on the losing side, Rebecca Hill wasn’t willing to accept defeat on behalf of the girls in her district who may have been – and still may be – faced with encounters with biological males in their restrooms and locker rooms. Hill stated, “I would advise parents to use their vouchers elsewhere. I don’t endorse PUSD anymore. I can’t. I would advise that parents take the ability at this time to take their vouchers, which have been given to them, and use them in private schools, use them on online, home school your kid. Choose the curriculum. Choose what happens with their livelihood, with what is going to happen with them in the future. Public education isn’t going in the right direction. This is not what I want to see for our district.”
Hill’s comments referred to the universal Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA), which were expanded by the Arizona Legislature in 2022 and signed into law by then-Governor Doug Ducey. The program is run under the watchful eyes of Horne at the Arizona Department of Education, and it is rapidly increasing in popularity among Arizonans. In an email communication this past Friday, an ESA Account Holder Liaison wrote that there were now 53,704 Arizona students in this program. That number will continue to grow in the weeks ahead as more parents hear about this program and the opportunities to choose the educational direction for their children.
Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.
From the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) to local school board positions, several conservatives are currently leading or have already won key races on the education front in the 2022 General Election.
As of press time, Republican candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI), Tom Horne, had increased his lead in his challenge of incumbent Kathy Hoffman. Horne previously served as SPI from 2003 to 2011, prior to successfully running for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. If the results hold up, Horne says his focus as SPI will be on improving student performance and eradicating Critical Race Theory-based curriculum from Arizona’s public schools.
In the Peoria Unified School District race, Heather Rooks won a hard-fought and challenging race. Her efforts to expose the Social Emotional Learning-based policies and practices in the district eventually led her to request an injunction against an activist parent. As reported by the Arizona Daily Independent, Rooks, a mother of four school-aged children, obtained the injunction based on threats from Democrat activist, Josh Gray.
Two other conservative candidates, Amy Carney and Carine Werner, secured seats on the Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD) Governing Board. Their victories serve as a powerful repudiation of out-going Governing Board Member Jann-Michael Greenburg. Greenburg was sued by parents who accused him of trying to silence them after they exposed his secret Google Drive dossier on them. As AZ Free Newsreported in April, that dossier included a trove of political opposition research on parents, who opposed the district’s adoption of Social Emotional Learning and Critical Race Theory.
In the race for Flowing Wells School District Governing Board—an area known for being blue—conservative Brianna Hernandez Hamilton is currently holding on to one of two open spots. A mother of three very young children, Hernandez Hamilton ran with the slogan: “Parents + Teachers = Quality Education.”
Kurt Rohrs, a long-time education activist and frequent contributor to AZ Free News, won a spot on the Chandler Unified School District Governing Board. Rohrs, like Horne, focused on improving student performance and eliminating the divisive Critical Race Theory from the district’s curriculum. Many see Rohrs’ presence on the board as an opportunity to restore calm to the district which had become the center of controversy thanks to out-going board member Lindsay Love.
In the race for Dysart Unified School District Governing Board, conservative Dawn Densmore was retained by voters. As current president of the board, Densmore successfully led the fight to end the district’s relationship with the Arizona School Board Association (ASBA). Jennifer Drake also won a seat on the board.
Sandra Christensen is set to win a seat on the Paradise Valley Unified School District Governing Board. Libby Settle and Madicyn Reid are in the lead for spots in Fountain Hills. Paul Carver should take a win in Deer Valley. Jackie Ulmer appears to have been successful in Cave Creek as well as Rachel Walden in Mesa and Chad Thompson in Gilbert. In the Higley Unified School District, conservative Anna Van Hoek also won a seat on the board.
In a tweet from earlier this week, former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos summed up what many parents have been feeling over the past few years – left out. In response to the National Education Association’s claim that teachers “know better than anyone” what students need in the classroom, DeVos responded, “You misspelled parents.”