When my son Nick was deciding on a high school in Oakland, my one restriction was no Catholic schools. I'd left the Church decades ago, over teachings against homosexuality and birth control. So of course, the only school my son could see himself at was Bishop O'Dowd. After much begging by Nick and a few arguments, I agreed to examine O'Dowd. I found a school that in words and actions was committed to inclusion, diversity and social justice. About 45 percent of students and at least 18 percent of faculty were not Catholic. Nick's been happy there for three years.
But recent changes have unsettled me. Teachers must sign an employment contract each spring that requires adherence to Catholic doctrine in their professional work. This year, the Bishop who heads up the Oakland Diocese expanded the language to include teachers' private lives.
Students, parents and faculty were shocked. I wasn't -- although what many Catholics practice privately is at odds with Church doctrine, there is no wiggle room: homosexuality, birth control, in vitro fertilization, living together outside of marriage are not accepted. But I was alarmed at the loss of good teachers who refused to sign the new contract, and the lack of information on the intent of the added language. Students, who needed to be studying for finals, were upset and distracted and trying to decide if a walkout would serve any purpose.
And although the Bishop has now met with students and faculty, and will consider a change next year, that's not good enough for me. A reversion to the old language until the true intent of the added text is clarified would demonstrate that the Bishop understands our serious concerns.
But the clear commitment of students and parents to social justice is thrilling. Over 36,000 people signed a student petition. Parents lined up for blocks on the last school day of the year to support the teachers. For the first time in three years, I feel motivated to be part of this school community.