Controversy has hit a Catholic high school in Burien, Washington after it last week parted ways with two of its most “gifted” teachers. Those who know the teachers allege they were forced to resign because of their sexuality.
Paul Danforth, an English teacher who’d been with Kennedy Catholic High School for five years, and a female colleague who worked as a soccer coach – had recently got engaged to their respective same-sex partners.
Although Washington has anti-discrimination legislation, the school has religious exemptions. The Archdiocese of Seattle demands all employees, “live a lifestyle compatible with Catholic teaching.”
On Friday – Valentine’s Day – the school issued a statement saying both teachers had “voluntarily resigned.”
It praised both teachers as “highly capable, gifted, and qualified teachers … Their loss will be felt deeply by their students and the entire community.”
Over the weekend, a different story began to emerge. King County council member Dave Upthegrove posted a Facebook posting alleging both teachers were “forced” to resign because of their sexuality.
He said, “Kennedy High School in Burien today fired (forced the resignation of) two of their teachers solely because they are gay/lesbian. This is a reminder of the blatant discrimination that continues to exist in our community against members of the LGBT community.”
He went on to post that someone raised a rainbow flag at the school following news of the teachers’ departure broke – but it was swiftly taken down.
Fellow council member Joe McDermott posted to Facebook, “I’m angry that Kennedy Catholic High School has forced the resignations of two respected teachers because they are gay. This action is hurtful to the two former teachers, the Kennedy Catholic community, and most especially to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer students at Kennedy Catholic.”
Then, Paul Danforth’s fiancé, Sean Nyberg, took to social media to blast the school over its actions.
Nyberg tweeted Sunday, “DEVESTATED! On Nov 1st I proposed to my partner in @Disneyland … three months later he was forced to resign his job as an English Teacher at Kennedy Catholic High in Seattle, because of the same sex engagement. It’s heartbreaking.”
Nyberg posted footage of the proposal online.
— SeanNyberg (@SeanNyberg) February 17, 2020
He went on to post a statement, saying of Danforth: “After teaching there for over five years, and with a stellar record, he is no longer employed specifically because he and I got engaged. We entered into an agreement to take our relationship to the next level and enjoy the emotional, spiritual and legal benefits that marriage conveys.”
The school and Archdiocese of Seattle have not responded to further request for comment on the teachers’ departure.
Neither of the teachers involved has publicly issued statements. A petition demanding their reinstatement has gained over 15,000 signatures. Meanwhile, a GoFundMe for them has raised over $33,000 in just three days.
It says, “Two beloved and extraordinary teachers at Kennedy Catholic High School “voluntarily resigned” on February 13, 2020, because of their sexual orientation and desire to live authentically (and legally) married to their partners.”
Yesterday, following the President’s Day holiday, students at the school staged a mass walkout over the departure of their beloved educators. Carrying rainbow placards and slogans such as “Love Wins” and “Jesus had two dads and turned out fine,” they are demanding change at the school. Nyberg filmed the protest. He said it was, “One of the most powerful things I have ever seen in my life.”
Nov 1st I proposed to my partner in @Disneyland
Feb 13th my partner was forced to resign as a high school teacher
Today, Feb 18th, students walk out in protest.
This was one of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed. Our engagement should be celebrated not punished. pic.twitter.com/m8eK6wIySI
— SeanNyberg (@SeanNyberg) February 19, 2020
CBS reports the teachers have hired an attorney, although what legal action they may take is unclear at this stage.