Morality Clause In Oakland Catholic Teacher Contracts Causes Stir

In the past week, five teachers have quit their jobs at Catholic schools overseen by the Diocese of Oakland in Alameda, California because of new language in their contracts regarding their personal lives.

In an article written by Joe Garofoli of the San Francisco Gate, the new contracts included language that reads:

“In both the employee’s personal and professional life, the employee is expected to model and promote behavior in conformity with the teaching of the Roman Catholic faith in matters of faith and morals, and to do nothing that tends to bring discredit to the school or to the Diocese of Oakland.”

Approximately 20% of the teachers in the diocese’s 54 schools are not Catholic.

Not only teachers, but also students of the schools and their parents have lashed out against the new language. A website, Friends of Oakland Diocese Teachers, has sprung up, with a rally of support at Bishop O’Dowd High School, former home of the most vocal teacher to refuse signing the contract, Kathleen Purcell.

According to NBC Bay Area, Purcell was one of three teachers who refused to sign the new contract based on the language involved.

“People’s private lives have no place in an employment contract,” Purcell said. “I’d love it if the bishop said, ‘I’ve listened. Let’s pause. Let’s go back to last year’s contract and leave time to process this.’”

Purcell’s wish was not met as Oakland Bishop Michael Barber met with staff and students earlier this week at O’Dowd. A letter sent home with students read in part:

Bishop Barber agreed to draft a statement that clarifies the intention of the new contract language, and has committed to readjusting the contract language for the 2015-16 academic year based on further discussion with leaders of the Catholic schools in the Diocese of Oakland.

The Bishop made it clear that he does not intend to monitor the private lives of teachers and staff – he simply wants them to refrain from doing anything in their private lives that results in public scandal or which could cause harm to the students. He also wants to ensure that educators present moral codes aligned with Catholic teachings.

A parent petition to reinstate the 2013-2014 contract language has 613 signatures to date on Change.org,  while a more general petition, started by students, has racked up 12,443 signatures.

Sixty-three-year old O’Dowd teacher Bonnie Sussman says the contract and the deadline put herself and plenty of other teachers in a tough spot.

“A lot of them said, ‘I can’t afford not to sign,’ I’m in that category, too. But the question is: Do you want to fight discrimination from within the system or from the outside? There are some fabulous teachers who in good conscience say, ‘I can’t sign it.’ And if that happens, ultimately, the Catholic Church loses out.”