Catholic Free Press

Catholic Free Press Digital Edition

  • Aug
  • 15

Teachers resign from Assumption School

Posted By August 15, 2013 | 12:58 pm | Lead Story #2
Four teachers and two specialists at Assumption Elementary School in Millbury resigned last week, and replacements for all but one have been hired, school administrators said this week. The names of two others were also on a resignation e-mail sent to Father Paul M. LaPalme, headmaster of the school and pastor of its parish, Our Lady of the Assumption. Four other teachers and some specialists are returning, Father LaPalme said. Specialists are part-time staff teaching subjects such as French, which still needs an instructor, he said. He and the principal, Joan Matys, and the diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, Delma L. Josephson, spoke of starting the school year positively and moving forward despite the loss of veteran staffers.

By Tanya Connor

Four teachers and two specialists at Assumption Elementary School in Millbury resigned last week, and replacements for all but one have been hired, school administrators said this week.
The names of two others were also on a resignation e-mail sent to Father Paul M. LaPalme, headmaster of the school and pastor of its parish, Our Lady of the Assumption.
Four other teachers and some specialists are returning, Father LaPalme said. Specialists are part-time staff teaching subjects such as French, which still needs an instructor, he said. He and the principal, Joan Matys, and the diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, Delma L. Josephson, spoke of starting the school year positively and moving forward despite the loss of veteran staffers.
In an Aug. 4 e-mail, the eight leaving complained of an inability to meet with Father LaPalme with a diocesan mediator and a “disrespectful and offensive environment” they said he created. They called  the environment “inconsistent with the basic values of Catholic education.” They also complained of being prohibited from retrieving their personal property from the premises without Father LaPalme being present.
Father LaPalme said the resigning teachers didn’t speak to him as a group or tell him their concerns. He said they didn’t give reasons why they wanted to meet with him with a third party, and he didn’t think this was the way to operate.
The headmaster said evidently not everyone felt he created a negative environment, as some are returning.
Art teacher Ellen Richard, one of the eight on the resignation e-mail, said she had previously submitted her resignation because of family illness, but commiserated with the others.
Father LaPalme said he did not renew the contract of Judyth A. Keenan, who taught middle school math and social studies; her name was on the e-mail list, however.
The other teachers were: JoAnne O’Connor Holahan, middle school science and religion; Patricia Martin-Smith, pre-kindergarten 3 and 4; Kathleen Connelly Legg, kindergarten; Julianne Dee Fitzgerald, grade 4; Christine Milner, French, and Donna Rae Nagelschmidt, music for kindergarten-grade 8.
Father LaPalme said he was surprised by their resignations, as they had all signed contracts in June to return. He said he did not learn they were resigning until he received the Aug. 4 e-mail from Ms. Holahan. A copy with their signatures, which he said came in the mail the next day, made their resignation official.
Ms. Holahan said that teachers received the new diocesan  contract in meetings with Father LaPalme and Mrs. Matys June 18 and 19. It said the teachers had seven days to sign it, and the pastor then had 14 days to sign and return it to the teacher, she said.
But the teachers did not get their contracts back until after they met with Superintendent Josephson on July 22, Ms. Holahan said.
“We didn’t know if we had jobs,” she said.
Father LaPalme said he signed the contracts within 14 days and returned them to the teachers.
Superintendent Josephson said it is always troubling when someone breaks a contract.
“We’re grateful for the service that those teachers gave,” she said, expressing sorrow that they left.
“Now it’s about the children,” she said. “Children first. Father is doing what he can, and Mrs. Matys, to open the school year well and to move forward. And they will.”
Mrs. Matys said the school lost about five students to this situation, but others have enrolled since. Some parents are extremely supportive and some are not, she said.
She said she and Father LaPalme want to make a good school better.
Ms. Holahan, who’s taught there for 22 years, said it was  hard to resign.
In the e-mail they said they were sad to leave a school they loved and had served for 80 years altogether and that they had not secured other employment.
“We have reached this decision, individually and collectively, and after a great deal of prayer, reflection and efforts to reach a different result,” they said.
“It was a community, a family – good people with good hearts,” Mrs. Richard said. “And they loved the kids.”
Ms. Holahan said the teachers started school last fall feeling very positive, willing to ride the wave of change. Mrs. Matys was a new principal and Father LaPalme a new headmaster.
She said the two operated in ways she and others took issue with. She complained about Mrs. Matys deciding to change the honor roll policy without input from teachers and parents, and not being accessible enough.
Father LaPalme told teachers when they had a problem with the principal they needed to see him, not go to her first, as was their tradition, Ms. Holahan said.
In mid-May the principal and pastor dismissed a 30-plus-year volunteer who organized all the special programs, Ms. Holahan said. That night teachers held their first meeting, upset at the treatment the woman received, she said.
Nine teachers (including the eight who signed the resignation letter) formed an association, hoping to get Father LaPalme to listen to them, Ms. Holahan said. They thought it would  give them “collective bargaining rights”  although it didn’t, she said.
The teachers looked into forming a union, as the Church says workers have that right, she said.
“We were told that we had no right to form a union,” she said. “It was not recognized by the diocese and certainly not recognized by the pastor.”
They learned that the National Labor Relations Act does not cover them either, because they are Catholic school teachers, she said.
Ms. Holahan said their purpose was not to negotiate salaries or benefits. But this year, she said, “We felt completely powerless.”
She said she learned from Superintendent Josephson in a meeting with her July 22 what Father LaPalme had told them at their contract meetings: canon law gives the pastor of a parish school full power over it.