By Sunnivie Brydum
Originally published on Advocate.com January 10 2014 3:59 PM ET
After wearing her new engagement ring to teach classes at Eastside Catholic High School in Sammammish, Wash., on Monday, a lesbian drama teacher is reportedly still employed by the school, which dismissed its vice principal December 20 after he married another man.
Stephanie Merrow, a part-time drama coach at Eastside, announced Monday that she planned to wear the engagement ring she recently got from her girlfriend of five years when she reported to work this week. According to Seattle's KING TV, the subtle act of protest did not cost Merrow her job.
"[I] Walked right in, did my job, business as usual," Merrow told KING. She did say she received "Several really good, long hugs."
Eastside's president Sister Mary Tracy told KING that Merrow was "welcome" to continue working at the school, and that her employment status was not discussed at a school board meeting Tuesday. KING notes that Merrow is not a contracted employee, so she may not be required to adhere to the same behavior guidelines expected of a full-time administrator like Mark Zmuda, the former vice principal who was dismissed from his position December 20 after he married another man.
Merrow's students reportedly spoke with Tracy Tuesday, making clear they didn't want their drama teacher to befall the same fate as Zmuda.
Students expressed optimism that Tracy was open to a dialogue, and reported a statement the school president gave them to share with the media. "I look forward to the day when no individual loses their job because they married a person of the same sex," student Julia Burns read. Tracy confirmed to KING that the statement was accurate.
Since Zmuda left the school in December — school officials say he resigned, but Zmuda says he was fired — students have organized sit-ins and other protests demanding that the gay vice principal be reinstated. They are planning a large-scale protest in support of the educator, fondly known as Mr. Z, which students have dubbed "Z-Day." On January 31, students are asking supporters at the school and around the nation to wear orange to show support for Zmuda and call for change within the school's Catholic doctrine.
A faculty spokesperson told KING Monday that the school is "not changing our position," citing the private, parochial school's First Amendment right to free exercise of religion. Because the school is a religious institution, it does not have to abide by state nondiscrimination laws, which in Washington include protections from being fired on the basis of one's sexual orientation or gender identity, according to the state's Human Rights Commission. But the Seattle Post-Intelligencer notes that Eastside Catholic's website claims the school "does not discriminate on a basis of an employee or applicant’s race, religion, creed, color, sex, age, national origin, disability, marital status, sexual orientation or any other status or condition protected by federal, state and local law."
Parents have also reportedly been informed that any students who continued to demonstrate against Zmuda's ouster would be disciplined and sent home, according to KING.