Parents and students at St. Mary's Academy have questions in the wake of the Catholic prep school firing a gay staffer from her job, then creating a hiring policy to protect LGBT employees.
School officials have prepared some answers.
St. Mary's emailed a question-and-answer list to parents and alumni tonight about why the school withdrew a contract offer to Lauren Brown, then quickly backed away from the decision after WW reported on it.
"We are deeply sorry," the letter begins, "for the great pain and turmoil within the St. Mary's community over the past few days."
The Q&A contains few revelations and several questionable assertions.
It continues the school's efforts at damage control as it pursues separate negotiations with Brown and the Archdiocese of Portland.
The school repeats its assertion that it withdrew Brown's contract offer because she told them about plans to marry her girlfriend. (She says that's not true.)
It argues the school asked Brown to keep silent in exchange for a year's salary because that's a "common practice in confidential employment documents."
And it says pressure from Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, Oregon Secretary of State Ted Wheeler, and major donors Mary and Tim Boyle played no role in the school's rapid about-face.
The school gives no indication how it is progressing in talks with the Archdiocese of Portland. Archbishop Alexander K. Sample is a dedicated foe of same-sex marriage.
Here is the full letter.
Dear St. Mary's Academy community,We are deeply sorry for the great pain and turmoil within the St. Mary's community over the past few days. We recognize that this has not been an easy time and thank you for your understanding, patience, and openness with us during this unprecedented journey. We appreciate the participation and willingness of those who engaged in open dialogue during the forums we hosted last week. For those who were unable to attend, we've created a Q&A comprised of the questions we've been asked most frequently. There has been much information shared over the past few days, both in the media and from St. Mary's. Our hope is that this Q&A addresses many of your outstanding questions, clarifies information and shows our continued commitment to transparency. As we move forward and open a new school year, we remain deeply committed to our mission to educate thoughtful leaders of tomorrow grounded in the values of our Catholic faith. Sincerely,Christina Friedhoff Kelli Clark President, St. Mary's Academy Principal, St. Mary's Academy Q&A Why did St. Mary's Academy initially decide to rescind the job offer?There is no easy answer to this question. This was a complex situation with many factors to consider, including our Catholic history, canon law, civil law, culture and religion. Given the guidelines we had at the time we felt obligated to make this decision. Why did St. Mary's change its employment policy?We revised our employment policies to align with the school's mission and practice of nurturing spirituality, encouraging creativity, promoting justice, and inspiring a sense of global interdependence to prepare students for service and leadership.How did St. Mary's Academy make the change to the policy?On the evening of Wednesday, August 26, the board of St. Mary's Academy voted unanimously to support the administration's recommendation to amend and broaden St. Mary's policy on equal employment, bringing our employment policies in line with the school's mission and beliefs. Was the policy change the result of pressure from donors or elected officials?No. The policy change was the result of our own genuine and careful deliberation. In this deliberation, we took into consideration the values that students, parents and others in the St. Mary's community expressed that they hold most dear. Early on Wednesday, August 26, school administrators called for a board meeting, which was held later that evening.What is St. Mary's new equal employment opportunity policy?Our equal employment opportunity policy now states:St. Mary's Academy does not discriminate against any person because of age, gender, color, race, national origin, religion, marital status, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation or any other class protected by law. St. Mary's Academy will make efforts to ensure that employees and applicants will not be discriminated against on the basis of the characteristics mentioned above in terms or conditions of employment, including recruiting, hiring, classification, compensation, promotion, training, termination or any other employment decisions.Did St. Mary's Academy fire Lauren Brown after learning she was gay? No. Ms. Brown's employment offer was rescinded after she told St. Mary's administrators about an intent to marry her same-sex partner, which conflicts with the current teachings of the Catholic Church. Ms. Brown was never employed by St. Mary's Academy. She did not return a signed contract to St. Mary's.Will St. Mary's offer Ms. Brown the job again?Prior to the change in St. Mary's employment policy and in preparation for the first day of school, the job was offered to another candidate. Have you reached out to Lauren Brown?Yes. St. Mary's has contacted Ms. Brown and is seeking reconciliation. We are in communication with Ms. Brown's attorney and working to schedule mediation. Why was Lauren Brown offered a separation agreement? Ms. Brown was offered six months' pay out of compassion, and, after hearing her concerns about finding another job at a school, given the timing of school hiring cycles, that amount was raised to a full year's pay with health benefits. The non-disclosure statement is a common practice in confidential employment documents. Ms. Brown and St. Mary's administrators formulated the language in the agreement together.What is the relationship with the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary? The Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary founded and continue to sponsor St. Mary's Academy. As is required in the bylaws, three Sisters serve on our Board of Directors. What is the relationship with the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon? Because we are a private Catholic school, the Archbishop has direction over the school in matters of faith and morals and exercises supervision over the religious formation and education program of the school.Has this decision had an impact on St. Mary's status as a Catholic high school? No. The Archdiocese and St. Mary's Academy are in dialogue regarding the recent policy change approved by the Board of Directors and are committed to continued conversation.Has this decision changed St. Mary's commitment to being a Catholic institution?Like many institutions who have inclusive employment policies, our commitment to our Catholic identity has not changed. Nor has our commitment to our mission and Catholic education.What role does the Board of Directors play at St. Mary's Academy?The Board of Directors is responsible for the strategic direction and holds the fiduciary responsibility for St. Mary's Academy. Duties of the Board include the election of officers, approval of the annual operating budget, and approval of the new Directors. Hiring of staff is delegated to the school's administration. How does St. Mary's reconcile this new policy with its commitment to being a Catholic school? St. Mary's Academy has always been and will always be rooted in the Catholic faith as exemplified by our founders the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. Amending an employment policy does not impact our commitment to our Catholic values, our Catholic traditions, and our commitment to educating young women in an ever-changing world. At the heart of what we do is to teach young women to understand and handle complex issues with critical minds, discernment, values, and a lens of social justice. As generations of alumnae can attest and serve as our models, St. Mary's is deeply committed to its Catholic tradition, and educates women to be leaders in their communities.