Parents, alums speak out against school firing

Concerned parents and alumni are speaking out and taking action following last month’s firing of a lesbian teacher at Waldron Mercy Academy.

In a letter to Waldron Mercy principal Nell Stetser and Sisters of Mercy president Sister Patricia Vetrano, a group of angered alumni stated it will withhold any future donations to the school until former director of religious studies Margie Winters is reinstated.

“Until an offer to reinstate Margie Winters is made, and we are confident that the school is once again a place of tolerance and inclusion, we will not be contributing any donations to the school and we will be urging others to do the same,” the letter stated. “We are confident that there will be many who join us.”

The Merion school declined to renew Winters’ contract in June after a parent, with whom Winters had an unrelated conflict regarding school curriculum, complained about her same-sex marriage. Winters said school officials knew of her 2007 marriage when she was hired and only moved to fire her after the aggrieved parent raised the issue to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

A spokesperson for the archdiocese said the termination decision was made by the school.

According to Waldron Mercy parents PGN spoke with, who wished to remain anonymous, some parents have chosen to withhold their tuition payments, which were due earlier this month.

“We are choosing to protest peacefully and respectfully,” one parent said, noting that a coalition of Winters’ supporters plans to continue writing letters and pushing “the board and the principal to act courageously in their efforts to answer our questions and concerns on the future of our beloved school — or simply resign.”

School officials held meetings for parents concerned about the situation, moderated by a third party, July 21 and 23 and have another meeting scheduled for July 29.

An email chain of more than 150 Waldron Mercy parents is continuing the discussion of what supporters can do next, with efforts concentrated on the preservation of the school community.

“[Our main concern] is the needs of the many heartbroken and angry parents and students who want to hear from the leadership of the school, get some comfort and help to repair the rift that has been created,” the parent said. “We have had no answers about the power structure — although we can all guess — and decision-making process, and we need the board to provide assurance that other teachers will not be targeted, as well as show us they have heart. How can we get the old Waldron back? Is it possible?”

While the archdiocese denied influencing the firing, many supporters are skeptical.

“It was not until one family, who is no longer at WMA, complained to the archdiocese that the school received heat from above and was told they would take the school’s Catholic title away if they did not handle the situation,” the parent contended. “[Archbishop Charles] Chaput of course had an influence in the decision-making process but ultimately did not make the final decision to fire Margie.”

Winters told PGN last week that she was doubtful of the archdiocese’s claim that it didn’t influence the termination, and another parent PGN interviewed, who graduated from the school, agreed.

“I and a lot of other parents continue to think that this decision was driven by the archdiocese, who turned the screws on the Sisters of Mercy, and consequently the administration,” the alum said, noting that, while many have called for Winters’ reinstatement, a letter from the Sisters of Mercy earlier this month declined that course of action. “There was a point where [school officials] could have called the archdiocese’s bluff and reinstated her, said what they needed to say in order to save face and move on. But the letter from the Sisters crushed any hope of that.”

Chaput’s statement commending the termination as showing “character and common sense” inflamed the situation, according to one parent.

“The archbishop poured gasoline on the fire when his statement was released,” the parent said. “This is enraging. So the parents, students, alumni, financial supporters of the school upset at this action have a lack of character and common sense?”

Although the school year is quickly approaching, some parents are considering transferring their children to other schools.

“At this point I don’t know if we are staying or not. It’s July, and if people are looking at other school choices for their children, this puts us in a tough spot,” the alum said, noting that children who attend the school largely share their parents’ bewilderment with the situation. “My sense is that, through talking with other parents, the kids’ feelings are consistent with their parents’. They don’t even get why it would be a big deal — it’s a non-issue to them.”