by Sam Levin
After weeks of intense criticism and media coverage surrounding the Diocese of Oakland's new "morals" code in its teacher contracts, Bishop Michael Barber now says he may revise the controversial language. But if he does, it won't be until next year, for the 2015-16 contracts. As we reported earlier this month, Barber has faced intense backlash for requiring teachers to sign a new clause saying they agree to "model and promote" Catholic faith and morals in their personal lives. Some teachers have refused to sign, arguing that officials could use this contractual language to fire employees for a wide range of troubling reasons — including for being LGBT or non-Catholic. Officials from the diocese have responded that the bishop has no intention of targeting certain employees or behaviors — and spokesperson Mike Brown told me today the language could change for 2015-16, but that nothing has been finalized.
On Tuesday, Barber met with concerned faculty at Bishop O'Dowd High School, where teachers have been most vocal about their opposition to the morals code — three teachers chose not to renew their contracts specifically because it. Today, a letter from O'Dowd's principal and president was posted on the school's website, which stated: "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."
Brown told me that in the near future there will be a "clarifying statement" in some form from the bishop regarding the intention of the 2014-15 contract language. But regarding potential readjustments to the actual contract in the following academic year, Brown said, "There's nothing firm on that. ... But there's a commitment to work together." (Diocese teachers are not tenured and thus sign new contracts every year.)
Brown continued: "The bishop is committed to working together with faculty to both clarify further what his language meant and what his intention is and, looking way far ahead, considering what language to include or not include in next year's contract period." Brown, who attended the O'Dowd discussion this week, added, "It was an extremely positive meeting from my perspective."
This latest news means the bishop has declined the requests of some opponents of the morals code who have asked that the diocese at least consider keeping old contracts in place for another year while the bishop and faculty collaborate on a revised policy. And it remains to be seen how many teachers across the Diocese of Oakland schools have refused to sign the contracts and will not be returning in the fall.
Here's the full letter from O'Dowd:
Representatives of our faculty and staff and Bishop Barber came together on May 27 to discuss our school community’s concerns regarding changed language in the Diocese of Oakland school contracts. The Bishop met with a group of concerned students that day as well.
Bishop Barber spoke openly about his rationale for changing the contract language, his view of the importance of the role of Catholic school educators in the lives of young people, and about his ongoing pastoral work that supports the full diversity of humankind.
Faculty and staff members had the opportunity to ask the Bishop questions and engaged in an open, honest exchange with him about their concerns. During this process it became evident to all present that there is a shared understanding and support of our common mission to provide a Catholic Christ-centered education.
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.
We have faith in the Bishop’s word that he will not monitor our private lives and of his support for our shared mission.
We’d like to thank the faculty and staff representatives, as well as the students, who met with the Bishop. As soon as we receive the Bishop’s clarifying statement it will be posted on our website.
Steve Phelps, President
Pam Shay, Principal