WEST SIMSBURY, Conn. — Rachel Aviles was one of the most popular kids at The Master’s School, a K-12 Christian school in West Simsbury. She played sports, kept her grades up, and enthusiastically signed up for any extracurricular activity that would have her, this despite the fact that she isn’t a Christian, though she insists she respects the faith.
This was to be her senior year and a former coach says she would have been up for all kinds of awards. But last spring she went on a class trip where several students, Aviles among them, pretended to be married. They made “wifey” phone calls to one another. They held hands — not unusual among same-sex friends at Master’s, Aviles said.
“Looking back, it was kind of stupid,” said Aviles, of Hartford. “But it was harmless.”
Word got back to the administration, and the students were called in and questioned about their sexual orientation. When it was her turn, Aviles told administrators that she is a lesbian. Her friends knew. Teachers didn’t.
Aviles said she was encouraged to withdraw, rather than be expelled. “It was a not thinly veiled threat,” said Beth Miller, who met Aviles when the student applied to Hartford Youth Scholars Foundation in ’07.
Legally, private schools — secular and otherwise — have more leeway as to whom to accept within their ranks. The school’s headmaster, Jon Holley, said he wouldn’t discuss Aviles because of privacy concerns, but Aviles’ former coach, Heather Lodovico, said when she withdrew, Aviles sent her coach a text message.
“She texted me and said something like ‘They kicked me out,’ and I made a joke, ‘What, are you pregnant?’ and she said, ‘No, worse. I’m gay,’” said Lodovico.
The coach said she immediately got on the phone to see if the decision could be reversed, but no.
“She’s a fantastic kid,” said Lodovico. “My reaction was: ‘Wow. Your God’s really small.’ Whether it’s a sin or not, take that out of the picture, and this is still wrong. I think God’s up there shaking His head going, ‘Really? Really?’
“From what I understand from talking to Master’s, it wasn’t the place for her,” she said. “She wasn’t a Christian and since she believed she’s gay, Master’s was not a fix for her. She could withdraw or they would expel her.”
Lodovico said she didn’t know her student’s sexual orientation. “It never came up,” she said. “I had no idea.”
Nor did she think Master’s would take this stance.
“I wouldn’t say they were liberal, but they were laid-back,” said Lodovico. “I never saw anything about Master’s that would lead me to believe they would do something like this. One of the things they pride themselves on is they let kids be unique and express themselves.”
Lodovico has since moved to Florida to teach and coach.
“They say they accept all religions, they don’t discriminate,” she said. “They’re holding their standards, but those are not even made clear.” The website mentions nothing about sexual orientation, and there is no faith clause, she said.
“I think my big problem with the church and Christian schools is if you’re going to accept folks outside the religion, how do they know what the standards are?” said Lodovico. “If you don’t make those clear, then let’s let kids know what they’re getting into. Let parents know.”
Miller said Aviles was a stand-out at the foundation, which trains students to apply for scholarships to private schools.
“She stood out right away as super confident with a great sense of humor,” said Miller. “She always stuck out that way. She wasn’t a perfect kid, but none of our kids were. We took kids who had potential, the kids who got lost in the shuffle. That’s the kind of kid Rachel was.”
Still, when Aviles sat down to talk about her leaving Master’s, the first thing she said was she didn’t want Master’s to look bad.
“Just because you’ve been wronged doesn’t mean you have the right to wrong back,” said the newest member of Watkinson Class of ’12.
Oh! The irony! The non-believing high school senior, turning the other cheek. That sounds downright Christian, doesn’t it?