COAL TOWNSHIP — “Furious” is one word Our Lady of Lourdes Regional School Board member Tony Varano used Wednesday to describe the board’s reaction to the firing of an unwed pregnant teacher based on a morality clause.
“It was a bad decision, short sighted and dusting off some old, archaic, barbaric morality clause the diocese has, and it’s going to be fixed,” he said of the firing of high school teacher Naiad Reich, whose employment was terminated Friday after informing the school she and her long-term boyfriend were expecting a child but had no plans for marriage.
Board members learned of the firing the same way as the public — through the press. Sister Mary Anne Bednar, high school principal and administrator, and the Harrisburg diocese had reportedly carried out the decision without notifying any board member.
Of Bednar’s decision to not consult the board, Varano said, “We are a voice at Lourdes and (yet) have to give our opinion to the press. It was wrong what Sister Bednar did and she was told that.”
When he spoke with Bednar over the decision to not consult the board regarding Reich, Varano said he was told she felt she didn’t have to, “but we’ll rectify that situation, too,” he noted.
“Some people, when they want a decision to be made and they know it won’t be in their favor if they consult the board, they go ahead and do something against our policy at the school and it’s disappointing. We’re all in shock about that.”
Varano was referencing Bednar’s decision to go to the Very Rev. Edward J. Quinlan, secretary for education at the Diocese of Harrisburg, who he was told made the final decision to terminate Reich. Speaking on behalf of the board, Varano said members are stunned to have not been privy to the discussion over Reich’s employment.
Varano believes Quinlan’s decision was personal, emphasizing Quinlan “is no friend of Lourdes.” He added, “Quinlan needs to stay out of Lourdes’ business and that’s how the board feels, because whenever he does (become involved), these sorts of things happen.”
Seven years ago, Lourdes was having financial difficulties that nearly led to the closure of the school until Varano and other alumni were given permission by then-Bishop William McFadden to begin an Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program. A business plan, including the EITC program, was developed to address the financial status of the school, and it rolled out in 2012.
EITC allows businesses to donate their state business taxes to help the school in the form of tuition assistance and has to date provided $1.3 million in helping parents pay for their children’s Lourdes education.
Varano alleges Quinlan “led the effort to close the high school” and wasn’t pleased with McFadden’s decision to side with Varano’s EITC plan. He believes the situation has caused “bad feelings” from Quinlan toward the school and resulted in him making decisions that “would have hurt the school.”
Attempts to talk to Quinlan Wednesday were unsuccessful. Instead, Rachel Bryson, executive director for public relations at the diocese, sent a statement reading, “Quinlan very much regrets that some may think he has any antipathy towards one of our schools.”
Bryson said at the time it seemed only a regional elementary program would be within the abilities to maintain, and McFadden and Quinlan “met with pastors to propose lowering the subsidies and a possible reconfiguration of the school.”
The EITC program was introduced and approved by McFadden, and Bryson said, “So far the school has been able to operate and the education office and the diocese are strong supporters of Our Lady of Lourdes School. We are invested in ensuring its students receive an excellent education in a safe learning environment.”
Board members couldn’t believe a series of discussions occurred between Tuesday and Friday last week regarding Reich’s employment, yet they weren’t consulted. The board knows what benefits the school day in and day out, said Varano.
But Bryson said Bednar followed the appropriate polices and procedures in reporting directly to the diocese, which is charged with handling employment of teachers and staff.
The diocese states the responsibilities of the school board are to “establish the budget for the school, propose local school policies, oversee all non-student organizations affiliated with the school, develop fundraising initiatives, exercise general management of the school and nominate members to join the board.”
Despite the diocese’s claim school boards have no say in school personnel matters, Lourdes board members were so outraged at the decision to terminate Reich without their consultation has led to their fighting to have her reinstated to her position, Varano said.
“We support Miss Reich 100 percent and voted to reinstate her, and right now we’re discussing it with the bishop and it will be resolved and she will be brought back, and her having a baby will be celebrated and there will not be any negativity toward that.”
However, shortly after his interview with The News-Item Wednesday afternoon, Varano spoke with Gainer about the situation and was disappointed in the result.
“In general, they’re sticking to their party-line per se due to this morality clause. They feel she violated it, but I’m making a case that she didn’t and (Gainer’s) OK with me having this discussion with Sister Bednar and re-evaluating whether (Reich) did or not.”
Varano expressed his feelings to Gainer that having a child out of wedlock is not a violation worthy of firing, and Gainer’s response was to allow Bednar to decide.
The ball is in Bednar’s court and Varano said he’s now waiting for her to call or email him. Before speaking with Gainer, he said any attempts to speak with Bednar were directed to Quinlan.
Asked for comment about the new developments Wednesday, Reich said she wishes to refrain from a statement until she learns more.
Varano said he will continue to fight to change enforcement of the morality clause, even calling into question whether the situation would have been handled the same had a male teacher cohabitated with his girlfriend and she was expecting a baby. He believes there are double standards applied in the enforcement of the morality clause.
As to the situation, he said, “Maybe 150 years ago it would be considered immoral, but not today, so this morality clause may have been a standard clause with the church, but it’s archaic. It needs to be changed, but at the very least it should never be enforced in a situation like this.”
Attempts by The News-Item to reach Bednar Monday and Tuesday were directed to the Diocese of Harrisburg. The latest information regarding Bednar’s role came after school hours Wednesday.