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Archdiocese called for resignations of gay teachers from Kennedy Catholic High School, attorney says

caption: Sosna Araya, center, a junior at Kennedy Catholic High School and member of the soccer team chants with classmates during a walkout to protest the departure of two LGBT educators on Tuesday, February 18, 2020, at Kennedy Catholic High School in Burien.
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Sosna Araya, center, a junior at Kennedy Catholic High School and member of the soccer team chants with classmates during a walkout to protest the departure of two LGBT educators on Tuesday, February 18, 2020, at Kennedy Catholic High School in Burien.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Two teachers who resigned from Kennedy Catholic High School last week spent several months under the threat of losing their jobs upon sharing their same-sex engagements with school officials, their attorney told KUOW.

The Archdiocese allegedly “wanted their keys and wanted them to be gone.”

Paul Danforth and Michelle Beattie’s resignations from Kennedy Catholic have garnered international media attention since last week.

Locally, hundreds of students, parents, and other supporters participated in a series of protests on Tuesday in support of the teachers, who voluntarily resigned. However, many have speculated they were forced to step down as a result of their sexual orientations.

READ: LGBT teachers 'pushed out' of Catholic high school, families demand reinstatement

"Ultimately, this has been looming over them since November," said Shannon McMinimee, the attorney representing Danforth and Beattie. "So while it may have felt very abrupt to the students and staff at Kennedy, Paul and Michelle had been going to work every day for three months, not knowing if they'd be fired the next day."

She added that “it was made clear to them from the beginning that once they were honest about being engaged and gay, that their employment was no longer compatible with Kennedy Catholic.”

Danforth declined to comment for this story and Beattie could not be reached by the time this story was published.

McMinimee said the terms of a confidentiality agreement between the teachers and the Archdiocese of Seattle were overstepped when a spokesperson for the Archdiocese told KUOW that "no one requested" the resignations.

McMinimee added that Danforth and Beattie were told by school administrators that, “they might be allowed to finish out the school year, if they didn't wear their rings and kept their engagements secret.”

Mike Prato, president of Kennedy Catholic, tells a slightly different story.

"I wanted to make sure [Beattie and Danforth] felt supported, and so we discussed several options including the possibility of finishing out the school year," Prato said in a written statement sent to KUOW, also asserting that the teachers' "departure is not due to their sexual orientation."

"We gave them the option to select the date they wanted to resign, and they indicated they wished to resign prior to the winter break in February. We worked with them to arrive at a mutually agreeable transition plan and financial package to assure they would be supported in their transition."

Archbishop Paul Etienne also broke his silence via a written statement, stating, "Those who teach in our schools are required to uphold our teaching in the classroom and to model it in their personal lives. We recognize and support the right of each individual to make choices. We also understand that some choices have particular consequences for those who represent the church in an official capacity."

There’s no clear legal precedent on the federal level regarding protections — or the lack thereof — afforded to employees who work at church-operated schools. But last December, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases brought by Catholic schools contending they are shielded from employment discrimination lawsuits under the First Amendment.

It is also unclear if Washington state's anti-discrimination laws would apply to non-ministerial employees who work for Catholic institutions.

Looking forward, McMinimee said Beattie and Danforth don’t intend to take further legal action — they simply hope to effect change. One solution, she added, would be to establish protections that prevent morality clauses, such as one found in the Archdiocese teacher contract, which could be used to target LGBT educators.

“They hope that this sparks a greater discussion of change with respect to, how is the diocese going to enforce these provisions?” she said. “Are they only going to enforce them against people who are in same sex relationships? Or are they going to consider other options, including having teaching contracts that are not the same as ministerial contracts?”

A walkout in support of those affected by the resignations is scheduled to take place at Bishop Blanchet High School on Friday at 11:10 a.m. A rally outside of the Archdiocese of Seattle is slated to follow.

This story was updated to include comment from representatives of Kennedy Catholic High School and the Archdiocese of Seattle.

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