Local High School Teachers Allegedly Forced to Resign Over Sexuality

The Archdiocese of Seattle has placed the president of Kennedy Catholic High School on leave following protests and public outcry over the resignation of two gay teachers. The two teachers had allegedly been forced to resign as a result of their engagements to same-sex partners. According to Shannon McMinimee, the lawyer representing the two teachers, they are not pursuing legal action against the school at this time.

According to a statement from President Michael Prato, the two teachers—Paul Danforth and Michelle Beattie—had approached him in November when they had gotten engaged to their respective partners. Kennedy Catholic High School is in Burien, a suburb south of Seattle.

Prato asserted in a statement that their voluntary resignation was unrelated to their sexuality, though this has been questioned by McMinimee.

“In this case, the two teachers proactively came to me in November to share their desire to marry their same-sex partners,” Prato said in his statement. “We discussed this decision in the context of their covenant agreement, and they voluntarily resigned.”

In an interview with The Spectator, McMinimee said that this was false—she said that their willingness to be open about their sexual orientation was the exact reason for their departure. She said that throughout November and December, both teachers were told that they could expect to be fired any day.

Danforth’s fiance, Sean Nyberg, also called into question the accuracy of Prato’s statement in a statement public on his Facebook.

“As someone who has had a front row seat to this entire situation for the past three and a half months, I can tell you that the letter from the KCHS President Mike Prato is so divorced from reality, even the introductory sentence is a lie,” Nyberg said in his statement.

In addition to placing Prato on leave, the Archdiocese has created a task-force to explore the ways that the church is applying its institutional beliefs to local schools.

Following the announcement of the teachers’ resignations, students at Kennedy Catholic walked out in protest on Feb. 18. according to B-Town Blog, a newspaper in Burien. Hundreds of students participated in this walkout, as well as a large crowd of community members. Many students and community members also protested outside the Archdiocese of Seattle, located on First Hill.

The entire protest at Kennedy Catholic, which included several speeches from students, was filmed by B-Town Blog on Facebook Live.

“Last week, two teachers were told God’s plan for them wasn’t accepted, that their ability to teach was measured by those who they love,” one student said at the protest. “We can tell you firsthand that those two teachers taught us more than what we ever learned at school.”

Another student questioned the decision by the Archdiocese to enforce the Catholic church’s stance on homosexuality, while not enforcing other stances.

“Who is it to decide which laws the Archdiocese must follow and which ones can be excused?” This student asked. “What happened here is not a first-time occurrence, but it will be the last.”

McMinimee pointed out that while the teachers sign a covenant to abide by Catholic teachings, those covenants only seem to be enforced with regard to sexual orientation.

“I’m fairly certain they’re not asking everybody who walks into the door, whether or not they’ve been to confession in the last year, whether they used a condom last night, whether their child was born through IVF, whether they had their divorce annulled,” she said.

This latest incident of discrimination also reflects a broader trend of problematic leadership at Kennedy Catholic, according to McMinimee. In Nov. and Dec. 2019, many accused the school’s administration of institutional racism.

These problems included a weak response from the school to students’ use of the N-word, as well as a significant lack of racial diversity among the student body and a failure to implement culturally responsive teaching practices.

It’s for this reason, in addition to the resignations of the two teachers, that many in the Kennedy Catholic community have called for the resignation of both President Prato and Principal Nancy Bradish. At this time, only Prato has been placed on leave.

“Strong students come from schools with strong leadership, where they’re willing to take principled and moral stances,” McMinimee said. “I would hope that Kennedy High School gets leaders who are willing to take principled and moral stances moving forward.”

Though Seattle University is another Catholic institution that serves the same Archdiocese, it does not take the same stance as Kennedy Catholic—there are several openly LGBTQ+ faculty and staff members employed by the university. According to Provost Shane Martin, Seattle U has a more complex governance structure as an institution of higher education, as opposed to a high school. For this reason, the two institutions are not necessarily directly comparable.

Further, according to Martin, Seattle U would not take a stance on the situation at Kennedy Catholic. He said that only the Board of Trustees can speak on policy issues, and they would not take a stance on any decision made by an independent institution.

That said, Martin said that Seattle U has a clear non-discrimination policy that states that the university does not discriminate based on gender or sexual orientation.

“Number one, it’s the right thing to do, particularly in terms of our mission. Number two, it aligns us with where higher ed is,” Martin said. “If we were to have the kind of environment where some members of our community, our faculty or staff didn’t…feel safe in terms of who they are and their sexual orientation, I think that would create a negative environment and could actually impair our educational mission.”

That said, Martin said that he, personally, was concerned by what he perceives as a national trend of high schools and elementary schools nationwide, where LGBTQ teachers are not allowed to work at Catholic institutions.

“When you look at any marginalized community, whether it’s women, people of color and members of LGBTQ community, role models are even more important, because one can have a sense of self-alienation, picking up the negative narratives in society. And without having people in your life to serve as role models who can represent a whole range of alternatives that someone can have, as they grow through high school, as they go through college, there’s a sense of feeling alone.”