When Matt Bosse began looking for a middle school for his 10-year- old, Garrett, several friends told him to consider Santa Fe Christian Middle School, a school known for rigorous academics, proud athletics and a Bible-based curriculum.
After all, they said, Garrett is a high-character, straight-A student at Olivenhain Pioneer Elementary School, an altar boy at his Episcopalian Church and plays competitive lacrosse.
So it came as a surprise, Bosse said, when school admissions director Vicki O’Rourke late last year discouraged him from applying because they weren’t the type of family that would be welcome at the school.
The reason, Bosse said? Because Garrett has two fathers.
Bosse’s spouse is Encinitas City Councilman Joe Mosca, who became the city’s first openly gay councilman when he was appointed in 2017. Bosse and Mosca said they were “shocked” and “disappointed” by the school’s decision, which they called outdated.
“It was the first time in our experience that we have faced that sort of discrimination,” Bosse said. “We respect SFC and their right to run the school, but in this day in age, it seems antiquated.”
Mosca echoed Bosse’s sentiments.
“When they told us that we weren’t invited to apply because we were two dads it was shock to us,” Mosca said. “Hopefully by telling our story it can effect some change.” Santa Fe Christian Middle School Director Todd Deveau said in a statement that the school doesn’t comment on specific admission decisions, but commented on the school’s admissions practices.
“While we do not provide details on matters involving students or prospective students, I can say that our policy is to encourage the family of any student committed to academic excellence and spiritual development to apply,” Deveau wrote. “As a matter of practice, we do not attempt to persuade or dissuade prospective families from applying.
“At the same time, as part of the admissions process, we make clear to prospective applicants that they will be joining a Bible-based community designed to disciple students to embrace
biblical truth,” Deveau’s statement continued. “This is our mission and our purpose, and a vital component of the SFCS experience.”
According to the school’s website, Santa Fe Christian’s admissions season begins in October, and includes two rounds of applications, an entrance exam and a family interview.
The goal, according to the website, is to “match students/families with our school mission statement by evaluating applicants on the spiritual, academic and behavioral requirements identified in the admissions criteria.”
Among the four-prong admissions criteria is “spiritual commitment,” which requires one parent to be a Christian and at least one parent and the child currently attend a “Christ-centered” church, and show a sustained commitment to said church, including pastoral references. Parents must also agree with the school’s statement of faith and provide a written Christian testimony, although it is preferred that both parents provide written faith testimonies.
Parents must also sign a so-called “Parent Commitment Form” that indicates their support and compliance with the philosophy, statement of faith, spiritual goals, policies, practices and
objectives of the schools.
The admissions criteria also includes a behavior section. While the section only specifically calls out drugs and alcohol use as a disqualifying offense (prospective students must be drug and alcohol free for a full semester before being admitted) and does not call out homosexuality, it includes a requirement that “students and parents must exhibit behavior, both in and out of
school, that is consistent with SFCS’ Christian values.”
Mosca said that he and Bosse regularly attend St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Encinitas, where Garrett is an active volunteer at the church’s homeless shelter. Both Bosse and Mosca said they were raised in devout Catholic families.
The family stressed that they are very happy with the public school education they are receiving at OPE, but with their oldest heading to middle school, they wanted to explore all of the different options.
Both men said that when they told the friends who had encouraged them to consider Santa Fe Christian — parents at OPE who had attended the private school themselves — they, too, were shocked.
“We have a lot of really amazing people in our lives that we trust and respect and that have actually gone to the school or have sent kids to the school, and they don’t know that that is the policy,” Mosca said. “And they would never support that policy.”
“It would be surprising if the Santa Fe Christian community knew they (admissions directors) were delivering this type of message,” Bosse added. “Most of our friends involved with the school don’t practice that type of Christianity.”
Unlike public schools, which fall under both federal and state anti-discrimination laws such as Title IX and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, private schools that don’t accept federal or state funding have no such protections, experts said.
Courts have ruled that religious schools are exempt from those statutes because they would infringe on the school and parent church’s free right to exercise its religious beliefs.
In California, the Unruh Act bars discrimination based on sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status or sexual
orientation by businesses. The courts in 2009, however, have ruled that the laws don’t apply to private religious schools because they aren’t businesses.
Paul Castillo is a senior attorney and students’ rights strategist with Lambda Legal, the nation’s oldest and largest LGBTQ legal organization. Castillo said that nationally, the current administration has emboldened discrimination of LGBTQ students, both by individuals and institutions.
“You have an Administration that continues to erode protections for LGBT people in every facet of life,” Castillo said. “It sends a horrible message that discrimination aimed at vulnerable
populations is not only acceptable; it’s encouraged.
“The sad reality is that LGBT students, many of whom are bullied, harassed and suffer discrimination at a private religious organizations have very few options,” Castillo said.
Bosse and Mosca both said they weren’t looking to punish the school or to force them to admit Garrett. They just wanted to raise public awareness to the fact that discrimination of this kind still exists.
“We actually appreciate them being up front about it,” Bosse said. “The last thing we want to do
is subject our son to any discrimination. It’s just sad that it still exists.”