Eastside Catholic warns students about missing classes for protests
SAMMAMISH, Wash. -- When students headed back to class Monday morning at Eastside Catholic High School, they did so with a warning in place from administrators: no rallies, no protests - just back to the books or get kicked off campus.
Administrators made this clear after a series of protests and sit-ins over the termination of Vice Principal Mark Zmuda. He says he was told he was fired for breach of contract. Zmuda says all he did was marry the love of his life, a man. The termination shocked students and faculty.
"The faculty stood behind me -- they were there for me for about an hour and a half," Zmuda said. "They talked about different options to try to keep me."
Students immediately rallied around him and hit social media to bring a much broader awareness to the issue. They held a series of rallies and protests, even at the offices of the diocese in Seattle.
And on their first day back from Christmas vacation, Julia Burns and Ian Edwards went straight to the principal's office to ask Sr. Mary Tracy to meet with students.
"We're working as hard as we can to keep everybody focused on it, we're still planning events, still planning rallies," Edwards said.
Burns and Edwards organized other students to abide by the school's request that they not walk out of class and instead use their lunch time to line up outside the principal's office to request time with Sr. Tracy and they say she agreed to answer their questions on the issue.
"We're just making sure we're not disrupting crucial learning time but still make an impact," Burns said.
They want attention focused on what they consider the wrongful termination of Zmuda.
The administration called all staff to a meeting Sunday evening to discuss what's next. In a letter requesting they come back early from vacation, principal Sr. Tracy told staff they have the chance to share the teachings of the church. She also wrote, "As we welcome beginnings in 2014, may we leave behind any obstacles that divide or disintegrate while we seek the pure, the new - the faith-filled EC community."
In an interview with former student Catrina Crittenden, Zmuda said, "People I think don't choose to be straight or gay. Instead they discover it, that they're one or the other and unfortunately I just disagree with how the church feels on this particular issue."
The students are not willing to let it go, staying on social media to keep their cause in the spotlight.
"Really all I can say is power in numbers," Edwards said.
The issue has gone global, with Zmuda saying he's received messages from Brazil, Spain and across the United States.
And now more than 31,000 people signed a petition Senior Class President Bradley Strode posted online asking Catholic Bishops to change the church's stance on gay marriage.
"Just shows the fact that standing up can make a difference," Zmuda said.
These students obviously are a generation working toward change and no doubt they will continue their efforts until they are satisfied.
Eastside Catholic also announced that Tom Lord is returning as Vice Principal, having served in leadership roles at several Catholic schools.