95 percent of ancient Ohio was forested. But centuries ago there were also small regions of prairie. Tall grasses and wildflowers were part of the prairie ecology and so were bison. Researchers near Columbus are trying to reestablish a prairie / bison ecosystem.
Watterson Teacher Wants Job Back: “That’s All I’m Hoping For”
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When Carla Hale, 57, received her termination letter from Bishop Watterson Principal Marian Hutson, Hale said she was in, “total shock. Like your legs had just been cut out from under you.â€
The letter was from the Columbus Diocese and signed by Hutson.
â€œI turned to the principal and I said, â€˜Are we talking like immediately? Am I supposed to leave the building?â€™ And she just, she said, â€˜Yes.â€™â€
That was March 28, and Hale hasnâ€™t been back since.
Hale is gay. And she said that is the reason the Columbus Diocese fired her, for what it said was a violation of moral law.
An anonymous letter, along with Haleâ€™s motherâ€™s obituary, was sent to the Diocese in February. Haleâ€™s same-sex partner was listed in the obit.
Hale, a 19-year health and physical education teacher at Watterson, said she did not discuss her sexual orientation with colleagues. She said only a few close co-workers knew. And for nearly 20 years, there was never a problem.
Hale called the anonymous letter cowardly.
â€œTo use my momâ€™s obituary, her death, to write this letter. And, honestly, we wouldnâ€™t be in this situation if it wasnâ€™t for her death, nor if my partnerâ€™s name was Chris.â€
During the past couple of days some 7,000 Hale supporters â€“ current students, alumni, others who support gay rights â€“ have signed an online petition asking Bishop Watterson to reinstate Hale.
2010 Watterson graduate Michael Liggett remembered Hale fondly. Liggett said he was â€œshockedâ€ and â€œdisgustedâ€ when he learned why his former teacher was fired.
â€œCoach Hale was a highly respected member of the staff,” he said. “She was greatly loved by her students, and just an overall woman of wonderful integrity.â€
Natalie Theado, who graduated from Bishop Watterson in 1998, also signed the petition. Theado called Hale a caring and good person. Theado said she never thought about Haleâ€™s sexual orientation.
â€œWhat does it matter at the end of the day, you know? I mean, we are all people just trying to make it in this world,” Theado said.
Hale spoke positively of Bishop Watterson, its staff and its students. And she has filed a grievance with the Diocese, asking to get back her job.
â€œAt this point in time, thatâ€™s all Iâ€™m hoping for.â€
But if Hale isnâ€™t reinstated, she has other options. She can ask for the city to investigate whether the Diocese violated a city ordinance which protects employees from discrimination including sexual orientation.
Napoleon Bell, who directs Columbusâ€™ Community Relations Commission, said religious employers are not exempt from the city ordinance.
â€œThere is not that exemption,” Bell said. “It applies to any agency or business that employs four people or more.â€
If the commission found discrimination, it would turn the case over to the city attorneyâ€™s office.
And Haleâ€™s attorney, Tom Tootle, said a judge could order the Diocese to reinstate her.
â€œIf the school doesnâ€™t do the right thing itâ€™s certainly conceivable that we could file a complaint with the community relations commission,” Tootle said.
Bishop Watterson school officials and the Diocese declined comment for this story.
Watterson alum Liggett wants to see Hale get her job back. But if not, he said he hopes her firing generates a dialogue about LGBT educators.
â€œThey are still individuals of the utmost integrity and really display the true foundations and goals of Watterson and the Catholic school system.â€
Hale said she does not think the Catholic Church is ready for the conversation Liggett wants, but she said it has to start somewhere.
â€œAs most changes take place, it has to be the younger generation stepping up,” Hale said. “And theyâ€™ve obviously shown great tolerance and love and support. And so, itâ€™s a step.â€