Chandler Unified School District fired an art teacher for allegedly discriminating against a transgender student and bringing a box of Bibles to her classroom.
Annella Krom’s conduct at Arizona College Preparatory-Erie was described as “objectionable, disrespectful, and unprofessional” in a report by district staff to the governing board.
Students accused Krom of freely discussing her Christian beliefs in class and expressing anti-gay viewpoints, including she thought homosexuals were “just confused.”
The allegations led to her termination earlier this month.
The East Valley Tribune reached out to Krom, who had been teaching in Chandler for the last three years and she referred any questions to her attorney but he did not reply.
The district report said a transgender student told administrators Krom wouldn’t allow an art project about the personal journey through transgenderism because the subject was inappropriate for a classroom environment.
“Teacher subsequently acknowledged that she rejected the topic because it conflicted with teacher’s religious beliefs,” the report states.
The student went to a counselor, who informed the school’s principal. The principal advised Krom there was nothing objectionable with the student’s project topic.
In an email, Krom told the principal she does not condone the LGBTQ lifestyle and won’t assist in creating artwork that glorifies it, the report said.
“Either this topic is the priority or the word of God is,” the teacher allegedly wrote.
Krom gave the student zero out of a possible 50 points for the project, telling the principal that a higher grade would violate her conscience.
“I understand that you are probably unwilling to change your topic at this point,” the teacher reportedly wrote to the student, “but I cannot be forced to compromise convictions.”
The transgender student asked to be taken out of Krom’s class, according to the report.
CUSD charged Krom with violating a provision of her contract that prohibits a teacher from discriminating against any coworker, student or parent based on gender or sexual orientation.
On Sept. 11, the Chandler Unified Governing Board determined there was good cause to dismiss Krom and placed her on administrative leave.
She was given until Sept. 26 to request a hearing to contest the district’s allegations before termination was considered, but she never sought one.
It appears to be relatively rare for CUSD to fire a teacher in the middle of a school year.
District records appear to show the Governing Board has not tried to terminate a teacher since 2014 and that case ended with the employee resigning.
The district’s report outlined other allegations of students feeling uncomfortable in Krom’s class.
One student told administrators Krom questioned their pro-choice beliefs regarding abortion, gave the student a Bible, and encouraged the student to rethink their morals.
The same student alleged that shortly after telling Krom they were agnostic or an atheist, the teacher lowered their grade on an assignment without explanation.
“Student reasonably believes the change in her grading was the result of discrimination by teacher,” the district’s report states.
The classroom environment Krom described on the Arizona College Prep’s website sounds starkly different from the one depicted in the district’s report.
She presented herself as an instructor who welcomed students to be creative and expressive.
“If you have artistic ideas that you would like to create other than the project that we are doing, we can discuss it,” Krom wrote on the school’s website. “I encourage conversation and respectful discussion.”
The constitutional rights guaranteed under the First Amendment can often come into conflict in a public school setting. It instructs the government not to establish one religion, yet the First Amendment still entitles citizens to freely express themselves.
CUSD argues Krom’s free-speech rights were not violated because case law has established that a public school’s aim to not favor one religion should override a teacher’s religious beliefs.
In 1992, the federal courts ruled a California teacher’s rights were not hindered when their school compelled them to teach evolution, which conflicted with their religious beliefs.
Arizona law offers an exception for including the Bible in school curriculum if it is part of a voluntary elective course that maintains religious neutrality.
But CUSD argues Krom’s conduct did not meet this exception, particularly when she brought a box of Bibles into her classroom.
Students claimed Krom told them the Bibles had been donated to the school and they were free to take one. A parent later notified the district after their child came home with one.
A teacher’s certification is subject to revocation if the instructor “teaches any sectarian doctrine or conducts any religious exercises in school,” according to Arizona law.
Another allegation involving Krom included transgender students not being addressed by their preferred name or pronoun.
According to the district’s report, a transgender student felt disrespected when Krom refused to call them by their preferred names.
Not acknowledging a student’s preferred pronoun can impact their emotional well-being, according to Madelaine Adelman, an Arizona State University professor and board member for the Phoenix chapter of GLSEN, an organization that aims to make schools more accepting of LGBTQ students.
“If someone is not calling you by your name, it means they don’t see you, they don’t acknowledge you, they don’t accept you. That you don’t belong,” Adelman said.
Other teachers across the country have been dismissed under similar circumstances as Krom’s.
A French teacher in Virginia was fired last year because his Christian faith prevented him from referring to a transgender student by their preferred pronoun.
In 2015, a Texas woman claimed she was terminated for not referring to a 6-year-old student by their preferred gender.
Asked whether Krom’s case has spurred CUSD to review how it trains staff, district spokesman Terry Locke said Chandler focuses on ensuring educational opportunities for all students.
“We have embarked on a multi-year effort to identify students who may be experiencing barriers to their academic success and then removing the barriers,” Locke wrote in a statement.
“This effort involves establishing a comprehensive and ongoing program to increase awareness, knowledge and understanding,” he said.
Chandler Unified has been grappling with issues of equity and inclusion for minority groups after a couple scandals projected CUSD in a negative light.
CUSD has responded by hiring a new administrator to oversee equity initiatives, which have had mixed responses from the community.
Some individuals have told the Governing Board these equity initiatives don’t do enough to protect LGBTQ students. On the other hand, some parents have expressed outright opposition to equity, calling it a type of political indoctrination.
A school’s receptiveness to adopting inclusive policies for LGBTQ students vary across the Phoenix area, according to Madelaine, who said some are eager to better accommodate them while others adamantly won’t do anything until the courts tell them otherwise.
It’s important schools make these students feel like they belong, Adelman added, or else it can have detrimental effects on their academic and emotional development.