A compromise is being reached between an English archdiocese and the staff of a Catholic school after a long standoff that emerged when the archdiocese banned an LGBTQ young adult author from speaking to students and faculty.
The negotiations come after six days of teacher walkouts following the cancellation of a March 7th book talk by author Simon James Green, who writes stories which often center queer youth. The ban, which comes from the Archdiocese of Southwark, was done over the wishes of administrators and staff at the John Fisher Catholic School, located on the south side of London, according to the i News.
The controversy was ignited further when the archdiocese fired several members of the school’s governing board, imposing its own “interim executive board” to ensure the cancelation of the event featuring Green. Parents and teachers were outraged by the cancellation, and the interim board was disbanded within days after being found illegal by the U.K.’s Department of Education. John Fisher is a Catholic school, but because it receives state funding, it is required to comply with national labor and anti-discrimination regulations.
School staff organized a labor walkout under the nation’s National Education Union (NEU) to express their disapproval:
“To date, teachers have walked out on six days. A further six days have been scheduled by the NEU, but the union has now suspended the action to allow mediation by the Acas arbitration service to continue.
“While the NEU had called for Mr Green’s visit to be reinstated, the new governing body has refused to invite him back…The two sides have reached an agreement which would see another author who writes about LGBT relationships invited to the school in the next academic year.”
The name of the new author has yet to be released, but there is relief among all disputing parties that progress has been made. In addition to hosting a different author who focuses on LGBTQ stories, “a possible compromise could involve at least some of the sacked governors being allowed to finish their terms of office alongside the newly appointed governors,” according to the news report. The details have yet to be divulged to the public, but the arbitration between the school and archdiocese is moving forward without active teacher strikes at the moment.
While educators look forward to returning to instruction, “the atmosphere has led some teachers to question their future at the school,” creating more urgency for compromise in the negotiation process: “The talks had made progress and appetite for a deal, amid fears that the situation at the school is becoming ‘toxic’ and ‘poisonous,’ and that the dispute could ‘tear the school apart.’”
The NEU announced the planned agreement between the teachers and the administration:
“‘We are pleased to have come to agreement with the school around the visit of an author whose writing includes LGBT+ relationships.’
“‘The event will take place in the upcoming academic year within a series of events about the celebration of diversity within literature and with the educational outcome of fostering a love of reading. A range of other measures were agreed including training and a re-affirming of commitment to diversity.
“‘Talks continue on the issue of the removal of members of the original governing body. While these talks are ongoing strike action by NEU members has been suspended.'”
The debacle at John Fisher highlights the importance of inclusive diocesan leadership, and the power of teachers at Catholic schools to support queer students. As Pope Francis continues to promote LGBTQ-positive clergy, there is hope for a more supportive institutional church, both from grassroots organizing amongst the laity and the leadership of the pope.
—Andru Zodrow, New Ways Ministry, June 2, 2022