Metro Weekly

Female Kindergarten Teacher Fired for Engagement to Woman

After a Washington state Catholic school fired the beloved teacher, parents rallied in fervent protest demanding her reinstatement.

A kindergarten classroom at a school – Photo: Lucas Alexander, via Unsplash

Parents at a Catholic school in the state of Washington started a petition to reinstate a kindergarten teacher whose contract for the next school year was not renewed after she became engaged to another woman.

Karen Pala, now in her fourth year teaching at St. Luke’s Catholic School in Shoreline, Washington, was informed in an email that she will not be allowed to return in the fall.

“Father Brad recently informed me that he will not be offering me a job at Saint Luke next year,” Pala wrote in an email to her student’s parents, referring to the school’s pastor, Father Brad Hagelin.

“This news has been extremely difficult for me. I am a faithful practicing Catholic and I was ready to spend the next 30 years of my career at St. Luke. I love this community and I love teaching at St. Luke School.”

When describing her meeting with Hagelin to several others, she indicated that the reason her contract was not renewed was due to her engagement to another woman.

The loss of a beloved teacher sparked outrage among parents, who began a petition calling the lack of contract renewal unjust and demanding that Pala be reinstated.

“This action is not only discriminatory but also violates the principles of equality and justice that we hold dear in our community,” the petition reads.

“The teacher, who has been an integral part of our educational system, was dismissed solely because she identifies as gay and is marrying her partner this summer. This decision by Father Brad sends a harmful message to our students about acceptance and inclusivity.”

In a letter obtained by FOX13, Hagelin defended his decision.

“At a Catholic parish, with a Catholic school as one of its ministries, the pastoral staff and teachers hold a unique role that is different from all other community members,” he wrote.

Noting that people may disagree with his decision, Hagelin wrote he is tasked with determining whether a minister’s public life is in alignment with Church teaching — meaning they must abide by Church doctrine, which includes opposition to same-sex marriage, in order to serve as an example to students of how to live according to the faith.

“Those employed in ministerial roles as teachers or catechists are a distinct and the most direct extension of the ministry of the pastor at each particular parish,” Hagelin wrote. “That is why we review the ministerial covenant and ask teachers to sign it each year. This is to emphasize that sacred trust between pastor and teacher.”

Parents who objected to Hagelin’s decision have formed a group called L.U.K.E., also known as St. Luke Families in support of Love, Unity, Kindness, and Equality, to call for Pala’s contract to be renewed.

The group is also calling for the Office of Catholic Schools Employee personnel handbook to add “marital status” to the Archdiocese’s anti-discrimination policy.

Outside the school, several parents flew rainbow Pride flags and handed out stickers and pins calling for Pala’s reinstatement. One house across from the school put up a rainbow-colored banner that read, “We love Ms. Pala.”

Former St. Luke teacher Tracy Rathke, who taught at the school for 25 years, expressed disappointment in Hagelin’s decision.

“He had a real opportunity to lead in this area, and he chose a different path,” she told FOX13. “No matter how you wrap it, it’s hate, and it’s not something that I want my former students to live in, it’s not something that I want the kids that are going through this school right now to live in. It’s not the message that we should be sending.”

St. Luke parent Whitney Hicks, who started the petition to reinstate Pala, told KIRO she is “appalled” at the decision “because there are gay children in this community who are afraid to say anything about it.”

She said she disagrees with Hagelin’s decision “with all my heart and soul.”

The petition has gained more than 1,500 signatures.

Archbishop Paul Etienne responded to the situation in a statement that appeared to back Hagelin’s decision not to renew Pala’s contract.

“The reality is that we live in a tension,” Etienne wrote, noting that a special task force studied the issue for over year from 2020 to 2021, only to conclude in a report that “there is no clear consensus for how to apply the covenant clause,” referring to the agreement that teachers sign agreeing to abide by Church teaching and embody it in their personal lives.

“Some people may place a greater emphasis on our moral teachings, while others may place greater emphasis on our social teachings,” Etienne wrote. “Both applications are legitimate, and yet, each is incomplete. Therein lies the expression of our human experience — we are incomplete.

“Because there isn’t a single defined answer, we must dialog like Jesus did. This is why the application of our covenant clause is handled at the local level to allow for this dialog and discussion to provide a deeper understanding of our teachings and expectations,” he concluded.

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