by Tim Peter
“Two teachers, Paul Danforth and Michelle Beattie, have voluntarily resigned their positions at Kennedy Catholic High School. They are highly capable, gifted and qualified teachers who have served our community with dedication and humility. Their loss will be felt deeply by their students and the entire community. We are thankful to Paul and Michelle for their years of service,” read the official statement from the school.
This is the news that shocked a Seattle area high school on Valentine’s Day. Danforth and Beattie had both been employed by the school for six years. They became engaged to their respective partners last year. Danforth taught English and is a graduate of KCHS as well as the son of a former faculty member. Beattie taught health and fitness and coached soccer. Multiple sources have said both teachers were well-liked by their coworkers, students and families.
“I was baptized and grew up Catholic – attending both a Catholic high school and college, King County Councilman Joe McDermott wrote on Facebook. “I didn’t come out myself until I was 30 – in part certainly because of the damaging messaging I received from the Catholic Church that being gay was wrong. Today my nephew and his Kennedy Catholic classmates continue to receive this destructive message.”
“I went to Kennedy with Paul Danforth,” said State Senator Joe Nguyen (D – White Center). “He wanted to go back and teach there because his father taught there. There is nobody that embodies the values of that school more than Paul and his family. If you look at the stuff we are doing locally, nationally, and in the state to make sure we have equity for the LGBTQ community, and then you see this happen, it’s frustrating. We all understand how important it is for these voices to be uplifted. This is a huge step back.”
When asked if he has any sympathy for the school’s religious freedom, Sen. Nguyen said, “No, I don’t.” However, the school is likely within its legal rights if the pair’s marital engagements violated their employment contracts. Religious organizations often include a morality clause that requires the signer to abide by the official teachings of the church. Washington state has some of the strongest protections for LGBTQ people in the U.S., yet laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation don’t necessarily apply in this case. Private schools can often do what they want, unlike public schools.
More than 100 parents, alumni and friends of Kennedy Catholic High School in Burien gathered at the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle early Tuesday morning, February 18, to protest Danforth’s and Beatty’s termination; later that afternoon, the first day back after a three-day weekend, students walked out of class and staged a sit-in in the school’s hallways.
King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, whose district includes Burien, posted on Facebook, “Kennedy High School in Burien today fired (forced the resignation) of two of their teachers solely because they are gay. This is a reminder of the blatant discrimination that continues to exist in our community. I hope everyone who values fairness and equality is as disgusted and outraged by the mean-spirited action of this anti-gay institution.”
Following several days of protests, Archbishop Paul Etienne on Tuesday suspended the school’s president (principal) Mike Prato until the end of the school year and replaced him with Father Bryan Dolejsi who was the chaplain at Kennedy Catholic from 2011 to 2017.
“Mike Prato is a highly respected leader, and it is our desire to support him during this challenging time,” the church’s statement said. “Please continue praying for him, the faculty and staff, and the entire Kennedy Catholic community.”
In a letter to the Kennedy Catholic High School community, the Archbishop said he was creating a task force “to look at how we apply universal church teaching locally. Specifically, under the leadership of the Office for Catholic Schools, this task force will examine how we remain faithful to our mission in a dramatically changing world.”
In a written statement, Sean Nyberg, Danforth’s fiancé, said, “The announcement today proves that the Seattle Archdiocese is paying attention to this story. I assume that means they will address the discriminatory and targeted enforcement of their morality clause against LGBT persons. While personnel changes were long overdue, the primary issue has been, and still remains, that the Seattle Archdiocese uses their morality clause to justify disciplinary action against LGBT persons, while ignoring other violations of Catholic teaching. I look forward to hearing a clear explanation for this discriminatory practice.”