Local Catholic school teachers seek representation

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Former Ascension School Teacher Organizes the Southwest Ohio Catholic Educators Association.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Archdiocese defends new contract language.

Frustration over the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s requirement for its Catholic school teachers to sign new contracts that spell out almost a dozen types of forbidden conduct has led to a local push to organize educators.

Teachers at Ascension School in Kettering and Holy Angels School in Dayton on Thursday sent notice to the pastors that they have voted in favor of organizing, officials confirmed.

More than half of educators at the schools voted to be represented in collective bargaining by the Southwest Ohio Catholic Educators Association.

Organizing efforts were sparked by the new contracts, which contain language that goes against what Catholic educators practice, teach and live by, said Jennifer Teleha, a former teacher at Ascension School who helped found the association. She said the contract language was intended to better shield the church against lawsuits.

“This contract grew because of lawsuits, because of money issues,” she said. “The dignity and the integrity of Catholic educators is not at the heart of the document.”

Dan Andriacco, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, confirmed that the pastors of Holy Angels and Ascension have been contacted about the formation of a teachers association.

He said the archdiocese has not yet seen the notices of the new bargaining groups, but he said the new contracts are not a significant departure from those of previous years.

Catholic teachers that are employed at schools owned by the archdiocese have always been required to sign contracts that contain a “morality clause.” About 93 Catholic schools are covered by the archdiocese’s “teacher-minister contract,” which includes elementary and secondary schools. About 2,800 Catholic teachers work in schools that are operated by the archdiocese or its agencies.

The archdiocese added new contractual language that lists specific forbidden activities after it last year settled two federal lawsuits that were filed by unmarried teachers who had been fired after becoming pregnant.

The contracts require teachers to act and speak in ways that “support the Catholic Church and its teachings.” Teachers can be disciplined or fired for publicly supporting or having a homosexual lifestyle, living together outside of marriage, engaging in sexual activity outside of marriage and supporting abortion and artificial insemination.

The new language led to questions and concerns among some Catholic educators. A teacher in Cincinnati said she is quitting because signing the document would not allow her to support her gay son.

A group of local Catholic educators decided to form the Southwest Ohio Catholic Educators Association, Teleha said.

The new contracts made it clear that educators need a spot at the negotiating table so they can talk to priests and the archbishop about changes to working conditions, she said.

She contends Catholic teachings about social justice clearly advocate for workers’ rights and the right of workers to organize.

“We are highly trained, certified professionals yet somebody else not in your profession (i.e., priests and pastors) writes your contract and then doesn’t ask for your input or any type of dialogue,” she said.

Teleha said the teachers at Ascension and Holy Angels are “courageous” for deciding to organize, because she understands that many people are afraid to anger church leaders.

Teleha said she hopes teachers in more schools join the association because they deserve a way to provide input that helps promote the faith-based teaching profession.

The letters the association sent to the pastors ask for a meeting to discuss the issues surrounding representation.

Catholic teachers in a number of U.S. cities, including Cleveland and Columbus, have organized and formed associations.

Archdiocese spokesman Andriacco said they had not seen the letters announcing the formation of new associations and he could not comment on them.

But he said the contract changes — which motivated the creation of the new association — are not drastic.

Some teachers did not understand that some of their public behaviors and statements went against the teachings of the Catholic Church, so the contracts now just provide some examples, he said.

“The archdiocese has had a moral conduct clause in our contract for many, many years, and the difference this year is we’ve specified some examples,” Andriacco said.

Paul Beyerle, principal at Bishop Leibold School in Dayton, said teachers will receive their contracts soon, and he expects all faculty will sign.

Beyerle said the new contract emphasizes the teachings of the Catholic Church on moral issues.

“The point is if you want to teach in a Catholic School then you follow Catholic teachings,” he said. “Doesn’t seem complicated to me. It is refreshing to me personally, that an institution is not wavering on its core beliefs.”

Rev. Jim Manning, president of Alter High School, said he met with faculty members and told them he understood they would follow their consciences.

He said their decisions would be honored and respected no matter the outcome. He believes only one teacher out of a faculty of 60 decided not to return because of the new contract.

“The decision of this teacher is honored and respected here at Alter as we honor and respect the decisions of those who did sign the contract,” he said.