Fired Watterson teacher: ‘I would love to go back’
Catholic school officials showed Carla Hale the door after learning of her same-sex relationship
The name of Hale’s female partner, Julie, was listed in parentheses next to hers in the obituary for her mother, Jeanne E. Roe, who died Feb. 25.
Now, Hale has been thrust into a limelight she never sought regarding such divisive national issues as marriage equality, the separation of church and state, and instances in which religious beliefs run counter to government regulations.
“I’m not comfortable at all with this,” Hale said this week of the widespread attention her dismissal from Clintonville’s Catholic high school has drawn. “I’m a very private person ... but as a result of what’s happening, I don’t think we have any choice right now but to go in the direction we’re going.”
That direction is to fight her firing from a job she’d held – and loved – for 19 years.
Hale learned she was out of a job upon returning from bereavement leave.
She said she had no reservations about including Julie’s name, although she noted ruefully that if her partner had been named “Chris” or “Pat” or something else gender-neutral, “this never would have come out.”
“She is family,” the 57-year-old Powell resident said. “My mom loved her, accepted her. She loved my mom. When my brother and I sat down and worked on the obituary, it was just a natural thing.”
A parent at Bishop Watterson evidently spotted the name in the obituary and complained to the school.
“I was initially called in on Tuesday, March 12, and shown a letter, anonymously written by a parent who had concerns about the way the obituary was written,” Hale said. “I’m very disheartened and saddened. Anonymous letters to me are very cowardly.
“It took my mom’s death, a very difficult time for me, and made it that much worse.”
Officials at Watterson would not comment on the situation.
“We have to refer personnel questions to the diocese,” Colleen Mar, director of communications, said this week.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Columbus isn’t saying much, either. In response to two voicemails left seeking comment, diocese spokesman George A. Jones wrote:
“Sorry I missed your call. I’ve been on jury duty this week and not available at the office, but I wanted to get back in touch with you regarding your question about Carla Hale. As per diocesan policy, however, all personnel matters are held as confidential.”
He did not reply to an email asking if the diocese had a policy of automatically severing ties with anyone found to be in a same-sex relationship.
Meanwhile, Hale said she wants her job back.
Her attorney, Thomas Tootle, has filed a grievance under the agreement between the diocese and the Central Ohio Association of Catholic Educators in order to bring that about.
“Bishop Watterson is a great place to work,” Hale said. “It’s a very positive environment. Kids are enthusiastic, for the most part. They can appreciate getting a Catholic education and the sacrifice their parents have made.
“Really, the anonymous letter’s what prompted this,” she added when asked why she would want to go back. “It’s not the student body. It’s not the fellow teachers. It’s one small incident that’s created this. I would love to go back and just go through my daily routine of being with the students and faculty.”
Tootle said his client’s beliefs are a factor.
“Obviously, in a Catholic school, but it’s important to recognize she’s not Catholic herself; she’s a Methodist,” Tootle said. “The school hired her knowing that.”
Tootle said his client was dismissed under the section of the contract between the COACE and the diocese that states:
“A contract may be terminated at any time for gross inefficiency or immorality, for serious unethical conduct or for willful and/or persistent violations of reasonable regulations of the school or the Diocesan Office of Catholic Schools. The teacher has the right to appeal such termination of contract through the grievance procedure.”
“There are two parties to this agreement,” Tootle said. “The question obviously is they’ve identified (Hale’s relationship with her partner) as immoral. If a jury were to look at this and ask themselves, ‘Is Ms. Hale guilty of immorality?’ the answer might be different.”