BEDFORD, Texas — Olivia Harrison's pink Hello Kitty backpack and matching lunchbox were ready for her first day at St. Vincent's School. And all summer, when her family drove past the campus, the 4-year-old was told that she would be starting pre-kindergarten there in August.
But on Monday, Olivia was not among the youngsters starting school at the campus. Administrators at the private Christian school denied her admission because they do not agree with her parents' lesbian relationship.
Jill and Tracy Harrison, who married in Canada in 2006, filled out an application in June. But last week, the women were told that Olivia could not enroll because their relationship is against the traditional beliefs of the Anglican Church.
"The canons of our church take a traditional stand on Christian marriage," St. Vincent's School chaplain Randall Foster said. "We didn't want to send the tacit message that we endorse the relationship. We cannot do anything that would give legitimacy to same-sex relationships."
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The Harrisons have found a new, nonreligious school for their daughter. But they said they are disappointed that their relationship became a factor in her admission.
"What we do when we come home and shut the door should not affect our daughter getting an education," Tracy Harrison said. "We want it to be fair."
Jill and Tracy Harrison continue to use the same last name although they are separated. They have two children, Olivia and Spencer, who is 2.
Tracy Harrison said that she was raised in a Baptist church and that the couple chose St. Vincent's School after researching schools with good academics that would teach basic Christian beliefs.
When Jill Harrison filled out enrollment forms for Olivia, she wrote in her name as the girl's mother. She crossed out father, wrote mother and listed Tracy's name there, she said.
School officials assumed that Tracy was a man, Foster said. But after the women attended a parents night Aug. 17, schools officials called a meeting with Jill Harrison to say that the child could not enroll.
"The only responsible thing was to say this is not a good fit," Foster said. "We were trying to protect Olivia, protect the other children from being exposed to the culture wars and stand up for our theological position."
Foster said Jill Harrison had told school officials that the couple was divorcing and that both partners would participate in the daughter's schooling. But she did not indicate that it was a same-sex relationship before the pair showed up at parents night.
Jill Harrison said she didn't think it was necessary to disclose it.
"I've never been explicit. It's never been a problem. It's never been an issue. If it comes up in conversation, I'll answer, but I don't feel it is my job to tell people about my personal life," she said. "Had I known, in hindsight, I would never have attempted to enroll her in a school where they did not believe in our beliefs and our lifestyle."
Although the sign outside St. Vincent's School identifies itself as Episcopal, the clergy left the national Episcopal Church in 2007 and is now affiliated with the Anglican Church in North America, Foster said. The church was among several that left the Episcopal Church over issues including the ordination of women and support for same-sex unions.
On Saturday, the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth issued a news release to clarify its relationship with the school, noting that Episcopal schools have nondiscriminatory admission policies. The diocese has contacted the family members to offer pastoral support and invited them to a Hurst, Texas, parish where they will be welcome, spokeswoman Katie Sherrod said.
"I have been in touch with Jill Harrison to apologize for the ordeal she, Tracy and Olivia have endured and for the fact that the word Episcopal was associated with this ordeal in any way," Sherrod said.
"I felt like we needed to reach out to them," Sherrod said. "That's hard to tell a 4-year-old child that you can't go to school there because you have two mommies. You don't do this to a child. I just am at a loss to justify that decision or to even understand it."
Meanwhile, the Southwestern Association of Episcopal Schools, which accredited the school, has asked St. Vincent's to remove website references to its accreditation, which ends June 2011, and the school has agreed to do so, Foster said.