Posted: 11:43 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013

Gay vice principal dismissed by Catholic school, 400 students walk out

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Eastside Catholic protest photo
A vice principal at Eastside Catholic High School was dismissed after school administrators confronted him about his gay marriage, and more than 400 students had a sit-in Thursday morning.

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By Casey McNerthney and Henry Rosoff

A vice principal at Eastside Catholic High School was dismissed after school administrators confronted him about his gay marriage, and more than 400 students had a sit-in Thursday morning.

“The dismissal of the Vice Principal was based on the Archdiocese of Seattle’s authority over a Catholic school,” Principal Polly Skinner wrote in an e-mail to an Eastside graduate. “We are saddened and as a Catholic school, bound by Catholic Teaching regarding Same Sex marriage.”

Skinner also said “this is a very challenging matter to all of us.” Staff said the decision about the vice principal, Mark Zmuda, came after direct order from the Archdiocese.

Eastside Catholic is in Sammamish but is part of the Archdiocese of Seattle. Last year, the Vatican gave Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain the job of making a group of Catholic nuns adhere to Church teachings after those nuns supported gay Catholics and other social justice issues.

In a statement to KIRO 7, a school attorney did not specifically address a recent order from the local Archdiocese. But the statement said same-sex marriage "is something that is clear at every leven of the Catholic Church from the Archdiocese level up to the Pope."

Zmuda, the vice principal who left the school, was married last year. On Tuesday administrators told him the same-sex marriage violated his contract with the school. The school’s attorney told KIRO 7 no ultimatum was given, and that Zmuda resigned his vice principal position.

"The fact that you guys are all here for me means the world," Zmuda told students in a video obtained by KIRO 7. "I just wanted you to know that I love each and every one of you. I appreciate the love and concern." Read his full comments below.

Students at Bishop Blanchet High School in North Seattle and Seattle Prep on Capitol Hill - both part of the Seattle Archdiocese - held gatherings Thursday to support the Eastside Catholic community. On Facebook and other social media, Eastside alumni were vocal that dismissing Zmuda was the wrong decision.

“I read the story today about the firing of the Vice Principal because he is gay,” Eastside Catholic alumni Jason Hilton wrote to the school development director Thursday afternoon. “I hope this story is not true.”

Hilton, who was the senior class president in 1999, said his feelings were echoed by many classmates today.

“Unless the people responsible are removed from ECHS and an apology to the students, alumni and the person himself is issued, please never reach out to me for money again and remove me from all communication.

“I am ashamed to be an alumnus of ECHS today.”

The protest from current students started in the lunch atrium and briefly moved outside before students went back in the school about 11:30 a.m. Eastside Catholic, at 232 228th Ave S.E. in Sammamish, has about 950 students.

Pope Francis made the most progressive Church statement on homosexuality this summer when he asked a reporter, “Who am I to judge?” when asked about gay priests. The move helped make him Time magazine’s Person of the Year.

After gay marriage was approved by the State Legislature in 2012, Archbishop Sartain supported getting signatures to back Referendum 74, which put gay marriage to a statewide vote. A week before the election, pro-gay marriage Catholics demonstrated outside St. James Cathedral, near the Archdiocese headquarters.

Zmuda is a graduate of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Virginia. He has a master of education in educational leadership and policy studies from the University of Texas with principal certification, according to his Eastside Catholic biography. Zmuda had taught math and held several administrative roles. Before coming to Eastside Catholic Zmuda was at Cardinal Gibbons School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. 

KIRO 7 obtained a recording of Zmuda addressing student gathered on Thursday. This is what he said:

The fact that you guys are all here for me means the world. I just wanted you to know that I love each and every one of you. I appreciate the love and concern."

I just want to make one brief statement and that is to tell you that yes, I am gay. Yes, I did get married this past summer and I know it is against the Catholic teaching. I think a lot of you guys are raised in a generation that is more open and acceptable to things that are legal now in the State of Washington. But, I just want you to know that my personal life is a small part of who I am.

I am first a teacher and administrator. And, I try my best to be an educator to each and every one of you. And, I hope that no matter what happens to me and to the school, that all of you guys will seek a career and work very hard, find the love of your life,  hopefully one day get married as well. At the same time, no matter what happens, strive to do your best. 

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