Sunday, July 22, 2018
Education

This teacher married her girlfriend. Then she was fired by a Miami Catholic school.

Parents at a Miami Catholic school are demanding answers after a beloved teacher was fired just days after marrying her partner.

First-grade teacher Jocelyn Morffi lost her job at Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic School on Thursday, the day after she returned from her wedding in the Florida Keys.

"This weekend I married the love of my life and unfortunately I was terminated from my job as a result," Morffi said in a post on social media. "In their eyes I’m not the right kind of Catholic for my choice in partner."

Parents learned of the firing in a letter they received from the school on Thursday evening, which did not give a reason for the decision. On Friday morning, roughly 20 parents gathered at Sts. Peter and Paul to demand an explanation from the school principal.

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"We were extremely livid. They treated her like a criminal, they didn’t even let her get her things out of her classroom," said Cintia Cini, parent of one of the children in Morffi’s class. Cini said that the parents hadn’t known Morffi was gay, but did not care about her sexual orientation. "Our only concern was the way she was with our children, the way she taught our children and this woman by far was one of the best teachers out there," she said.

The principal spoke to each of the parents individually but would not give them a reason for the firing, Cini said.

Sts. Peter and Paul did not respond to a request for comment. Archdiocese of Miami spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta confirmed that Morffi had been fired, but would not elaborate on the reasons except to say that the teacher had broken her contract. Agosta said it was the archdiocese’s policy not to discuss personnel matters.

"As a teacher in a Catholic school their responsibility is partly for the spiritual growth of the children," Agosta said. "One has to understand that in any corporation, institution or organization there are policies and procedures and teachings and traditions that are adhered to. If something along the way does not continue to stay within that contract, then we have no other choice."

After judges in Florida lifted the state’s ban on same-sex marriage in 2015, Archbishop Thomas Wenski sent a memo to employees reminding them of the Archdiocese of Miami’s policy. All employees, including school teachers, are considered church representatives and are expected to abide by Catholic teachings, the memo said. Any conduct "inconsistent" with that could result in disciplinary action, including termination.

Florida does not have a statewide law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. A Miami-Dade County ordinance that protects LGBT residents from discrimination exempts religious institutions from certain provisions.

"I think it’s shocking that in this day and age this continues to happen in South Florida," said Tony Lima, executive director of the South Florida LGBT rights group SAVE. "It’s important to continue educating the community that this kind of stuff happens in this day and age. But it’s even more important to pass comprehensive statewide protections."

Morffi worked for Sts. Peter and Paul for almost seven years. She also coached basketball and ran a volunteer organization, called #teachHope70x7, that takes students around the downtown Miami area on weekends to distribute meals to the homeless, said Morffi’s friend Katerina Reyes-Gutierrez.

Morffi married her partner of two years last weekend and returned to work on Wednesday, Reyes-Gutierrez said. She was called into the principal’s office that afternoon and told that she had to resign. Morffi refused, according to Reyes-Gutierrez, and was fired the next day. She was not given a reason for the termination, Reyes-Gutierrez said. Morffi did not respond to a request for comment.

Most of the people who commented on Morffi’s social media post expressed outrage, but a few people said they agreed with the school’s decision.

"It’s the Catholic church and they don’t allow lesbians nevermind gay marriage," one person said. "When you’re working for a business, as in this case, a Catholic owned school, you have to play by their rules."

Parents at Sts. Peter and Paul said they will continue to protest the decision.

"We were completely outraged, all of the parents," said Samantha Mills, whose child was in Morffi’s class last year. "This teacher in particular has made such a contribution to the school. She never imposes her personal beliefs on others. She just does everything in love. She has a way of teaching that is so amazing."

One parent, Valentina Simon, said she considered withdrawing her child from the school when she heard that Morffi had been fired based on her sexual orientation. "This is really bad," said Simon. "It can’t be that in 2018 ... they still do this type of thing."

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