The annual employment contract offered to the more than 1,600 teachers and staff members in the Diocese of Oakland schools has sparked a discussion on what it means to be a Catholic school teacher.
The contract, available to teachers April 15, and to be returned May 1, was the first offered to teachers since the Most Rev. Michael C. Barber, SJ, became bishop of Oakland on May 25, 2013.
The objections are that the new contract requires that in their personal and professional life, teachers are 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 their school or to the Diocese of Oakland.
In previous years' contracts, teachers agreed to "perform his/her duties as a minister and steward of principles characteristic of an educator in a Catholic school; including without limitation, teaching the doctrines, principles and beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church, conduct himself/herself in accord with these Catholic standards, respect for authority and others consistent with Catholic teachings."
"I trust the intelligence of our teachers and administrators that they understand that conduct outside the classroom, in rare instances, can possibly negatively affect their integrity as a role model inside the classroom. If it is true of sports stars and team owners, it is true of a Catholic school teacher," Bishop Barber wrote in the article accompanying this story. His sports team reference recalls the recent issue with the owner of an NBA basketball team.
"My desire is simply to make explicit in the contract the importance of being a public witness to the values and practices that are an integral part of the Catholic faith. I am not interested in examining a teacher's private life. But the public manifestation of a practice or a belief contrary to Catholic morals or beliefs, e.g. through Facebook, Twitter, etc. has consequences on a teacher's ability to fulfill their ministry as a role model in a Catholic school," he writes.
Teachers learned of the revised language in a March 15 letter from the bishop, addressed to "Fellow Ministers in our Catholic Schools."
"For several months the Bishops of California have been in active discussion about the importance of Catholic identity and especially how it is expressed in our Catholic schools," the bishop wrote. "As you know, the Catholic identity we impart is the very reason for a Catholic education.
"The Bishops realized the importance of spelling out the mission of a Catholic educator. An appropriate way to honor this commitment is to include it in the contract or work agreement each person signs each year, both as a reminder of your commitment and a renewal of it," he said.
The bishop told teachers, "I am proud to tell the families we educate that this is the commitment made by each of our employees and am honored to work with such dedicated employees."
By May 14, at the three diocesan high schools — Bishop O'Dowd and St. Elizabeth in Oakland, and St. Joseph Notre Dame in Alameda — a few contracts were reported to have been rejected by teachers.
But many teachers signed the contracts with a number of unresolved questions, officials at two of the high schools said.
Steve Phelps, president for the past nine years at Bishop O'Dowd High School, heard from his teachers and parents of some of the 1,150 students.
Phelps said he and Principal Pam Shay had received 25 to 30 emails from parents.
"They're afraid the school will be less accepting, less inclusive," Phelps said.
He assures them: "We remain an inclusive, diverse school."
Some parents, Phelps said, have expressed concern that O'Dowd's top-notch academics — they're sending two students apiece to Harvard, Yale and Stanford this fall — might suffer if gifted teachers are unwilling to sign the contracts.
"The bishop has been very good about listening," said Phelps, who was among a delegation from O'Dowd that met with the bishop May 9.
Duties: EMPLOYEE shall perform his/her duties as a minister and steward of principles characteristic of an educator in a Catholic school; including without limitation, teaching the doctrines, principles and beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church, conduct himself/herself in accord with these Catholic standards, respect for authority and others consistent with Catholic teachings.
Philosophy: The mission of the SCHOOL is to develop and promote teaching the Catholic faith within the philosophy of Catholic education as implemented at the SCHOOL, and the doctrines, laws and norms of the Roman Catholic Church. All of EMPLOYEE'S responsibilities shall be performed within this overarching commitment.
Duties: EMPLOYEE acknowledges that the SCHOOL operates within the philosophy of Catholic education and retains the right to employ individuals who demonstrate an ability to serve in accordance with that philosophy. 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. EMPLOYEE shall perform his/her duties as a minister and steward of principles characteristic of an educator in a Roman Catholic school, including without limitation, teaching the doctrines, principles, beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church, and conducting himself or herself in accord with these Catholic standards.
Source: Department of Catholic Schools
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