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Lesbian Couple Says School Denied Son Admission Due to Their Sexuality

Jennifer Dane, Megan Stratton and their son Brayden

A Maryland LGBTQ+ couple claims that a school denied admission to their child because of their "lifestyle," leaving the rising sixth-grader upset and his mothers puzzled. Now, in response to a complaint, school officials are putting forward alternative explanations for the letter they sent to the couple.

His family is typical, says Brayden Stratton, 11.

He lives with his engaged moms, Megan Stratton and Jennifer Dane, and a Bernedoodle named Freya, four goldendoodles, and Scottsdale, the family cat, in Hagerstown, Md.

Brayden prays and reads his Bible as a Christian. Friends of his family who teach and have kids at Grace Academy suggested the nondenominational Christian school in Washington County to Brayden and his parents, who decided to apply.

Last week, Stratton and Dane, a disabled veteran and CEO of the LGBTQ+ veterans' advocacy group Modern Military Association of America, told Brayden that he wouldn't be able to attend school with his friends. 

Grace Academy rejected him because his parents are gay, they told him.

Brayden tells The Advocate he's sad and doesn't understand why some religious people mistreat others. 

"My moms are gay, and that does not make me gay, but it doesn't matter because we are all normal," he says. 

The Advocate obtained a letter signed by Grace Academy upper school principal Mark H. Koontz Jr., which states, "We regret to inform you that, due to a lifestyle counter to the Biblical worldview we teach, we have decided to deny enrollment to Grace Academy."

While on the phone with The Advocate, Dane rhetorically asks, "How do you refuse admission to a bright, talented student based on uncontrollable factors?"

In the April 27 admissions interview, Stratton says, Koontz said Brayden would be a great addition to Grace Academy.

But the tone of the meeting changed when the couple asked the school about its antibullying policies, she says.

Stratton remembers Koontz saying he couldn't control Grace Academy's community reaction and would have to consult with the school's head about admitting Brayden.

He sent the rejection letter, dated May 8.

Rejection letter from Grace Academy

Emails viewed by The Advocate show Dane's conversations with Grace Academy officials.

After The Advocate tried to contact him, school head Greg Whitley wrote in an email to the couple that their sexual orientation wasn't the issue.

He wrote that a lack of regular church attendance, prayers, and family devotions conflicted with the school's worldview and that this was the "lifestyle" referred to. But, he said, he "decided" to refund the previously nonrefundable $50 application fee and provide a recommendation written by a Grace Academy teacher on Brayden’s behalf, which Koontz had claimed was unobtainable earlier.

Dane rejects Whitley's explanation out of hand.

"[Koontz] said that he'd be unsure how to respond if parents complained about our lifestyle in the interview," she says. “And he wasn’t worried about whether others thought we went to church enough.”

She believes that school officials are now lying after being caught discriminating in writing.

"Koontz literally said he had to talk to the head of school and the board about our 'lifestyle' as an LGBTQ+ family," Dane says. Koontz said that going to church doesn't reflect a person's ability to be a Christian, she adds.

In the messages, Koontz seems not to concern himself with Brayden's or his parents' faith or their frequency of worship.

Dane says they previously provided examples to school leaders of school community members' "lifestyles" that didn't fit a strictly Christian worldview.

"We are very aware that families within the Grace Academy community have a lifestyle counter to the Biblical worldviews that Grace Academy professes to teach," Dane wrote. "In our interview, Mr. Koontz specifically noted that Grace Academy has a Muslim family, and if he were the admissions head for the lower school, he would have denied their admission to the school."

The letter continues, "Additionally, several families, [one of which we know], are still married, but the husband is living with his girlfriend, who is fathering her child — this is adultery. Does this mean that their children will be asked to leave the school for a 'lifestyle' that is counter to the Biblical worldviews that Grace Academy teaches, or is that acceptable because they are a heterosexual family?"

They received no response, the women say.

Koontz and Whitley did not respond to The Advocate's questions about Grace Academy's criteria for a nonbiblical lifestyle. But Koontz sent this statement:

"The decision of our admissions committee was based upon our understanding of whether the prospective family was actively pursuing a relationship with Christ," he wrote. "If a prospective family is not attending church, praying, reading the Bible, or taking other outward steps in the exercise of their faith, then we consider that lifestyle to be a lifestyle counter to the Biblical worldview we teach. That was and is the basis for the decision. The sexual orientation of the parents of the prospective student was not a part of our consideration."

Hagerstown Mayor Emily Keller is dismayed by the decision. "While private schools can set their own rules, any form of discrimination is not welcome here," she says.

"I find it unfair that someone could be discriminated against just because of [who] his parents are," Keller says.

It's alarming that the letter mentions that it's based on their "lifestyle," she explains.

Democratic U.S. Rep. David Trone of Maryland, whose district includes Grace Academy, says the school's actions do not reflect the community. 

"For the Grace Christian Academy to deny a child acceptance because his loving parents happen to be gay is shocking and reprehensible," Trone tells The Advocate. "I stand in solidarity with the student and his family."

Trone's spokesperson says staff are investigating the matter.

Trone urges the LGBTQ+ community to "stand proud and never be ashamed of who you are."

An adviser to Maryland's Republican Gov. Larry Hogan directed The Advocate to the State Department of Education.  

It is investigating whether state funds went to Grace. A spokesperson says that the department reviews nonpublic schools and oversees BOOST (Broadening Opportunities and Opportunities for Students Today) and Nonpublic Textbook and Technology Programs.

In 2017, Grace Academy withdrew from the state's BOOST program after a review found violations of antidiscrimination requirements for receiving state funds.

In the eyes of Brayden's family, the irony is that he just wanted a quality education and to express his Christian faith.

"So they're punishing a great kid, who as far as we know is straight, not that it matters, and driving him away from his faith because he has gay moms," Dane says. "That's where we are."

Megan Stratton, Jennifer Dane, and their son Brayden

Megan Stratton, Jennifer Dane, and their son Brayden

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