Teachers at Catholic schools concerned over language that labels teachers as ‘ministers’ 

Teachers at four archdiocesan high schools, including two in The City, are worried that language proposed this week for their new contract could potentially strip educators of their legal rights.

The Archdiocese of San Francisco announced Tuesday that it is strengthening language in its faculty contract and handbook requiring high school educators to uphold Catholic teachings in their professional and public lives. That alone is of concern to some teachers, but a reference to teachers as ministers in the contract has ignited the greatest fear, union leaders said Thursday.

Catholic leaders have emphasized that the contract and handbook do not contain new requirements and simply clarify existing expectations that Catholic educators maintain Catholic teachings publicly and in the classroom.

But the revised language produces a number of “seemingly gray areas” that the San Francisco Archdiocesan Federation of Teachers, Local 2240 has since taken up with Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, said Michael Vezzali, chair of the English department at Archbishop Riordan High and the union’s treasurer.

“To say that [teachers] are concerned would be an understatement,” Lisa Dole, the union’s president, wrote in an email to The Examiner. “They are understandably concerned about the legal ramifications of the term minister.”

The union represents about 315 teachers at Riordan, Marin Catholic and Junipero Serra high schools, and Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory, and is the only Catholic teachers’ union west of the Mississippi River.

Handbook revisions, which will be implemented beginning in the 2015-16 school year, affect faculty and staff at the four schools. The contract, set to take effect Aug. 1, applies only to full-time faculty.

Vezzali said the reference to faculty and staff as ministers is used only once in the contract, toward the beginning.

“The Union and its members acknowledge that all faculty and staff are ministers engaged in this religious mission regardless of individual job description or subject matter...” the clause states.

“Nobody knows what kinds of legal ramifications that might have. There’s where the concern is,” Vezzali said.

It is also unclear whether the reference to ministers would prevent teachers from being covered by the collective bargaining agreement, though union officials said they are hopeful that is not true.

“As far as we are concerned all current [collective bargaining agreement] covered employees remain CBA current employees regardless of the term,” Dole said. The union has been engaged in conversations with Cordileone and is optimistic for a resolution.

“It’s been a very productive and positive dialogue,” Vezzali said.

The archbishop is scheduled to address Catholic high school teachers today.

About The Author

Laura Dudnick

Laura Dudnick, a Bay Area native, covers education and planning for The San Francisco Examiner. She previously worked as a senior local editor for Patch.com, and as the San Mateo County bureau reporter and weekend editor for Bay City News Service.
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