The following op-ed was submitted to Clarendon Patch last week. Links and photo added by Patch.
After the controversial decision this month to fire a highly respected member of the Bishop Denis J. O’Connell High School faculty, the administration has received numerous complaints and is being criticized by thousands from the O’Connell community. A protest on April 19 received local media attention, but officials have remained relatively silent on the reason behind the decision. The school, on Little Falls Road in Arlington, is a private Catholic school of roughly 1,200 students.
The firing of history teacher John Harrison follows a string of recent controversial decisions to let go of other greatly appreciated faculty members. The pattern calls into question the true motive behind the administration's decisions.
More than 3,300 disappointed alumni, students, friends and teachers have joined the Facebook group DJO Alumni Against the Firing of Mr. Harrison to protest Harrison’s termination. The apparent improper treatment of O’Connell teachers has continued against current students as rumors swirled this month that they were threatened with disciplinary action if they joined the protest. Still, hundreds of students and alumni respectfully displayed their frustration with posters and fliers that read “It’s a SADD day to be a Knight." Harrison was the moderator of the school's SADD club.
While Harrison says he plans to file an age discrimination lawsuit against the school, as a former student I can say we are just as upset. Alumni are refusing to send their donations or their children to O'Connell until it returns to a school we can be proud of.
The Facebook group has united thousands across the country in support of online petitions, a protest, and letters and emails to the bishop, the Catholic Diocese of Arlington and the high school itself. What is most disappointing is school president Kathleen Prebble and board members have failed to address the issues properly. Instead of sending a heartfelt apology for miscommunication or giving a sound reason for the administration’s decisions, members of the community are receiving mundane and impersonal email responses such as these:
Dear concerned Denis J. O'Connell High School parents and alumnae,
I have received your recent letter and thank you sincerely for your thoughts. I understand the concerns you may have given some of the news you have seen recently, but I hope you understand that many of you have received only one person's interpretation of events. Please see below a statement regarding the school issued jointly by Bishop Denis J. O'Connell High School's Board of Governors and my office. Let us all be assured that we all have the best interests of our students foremost in our minds.
Sincerely in Christ,
Sr. Bernadette McManigal, BVM
Superintendent of Catholic Schools
The Diocese of Arlington
Dear Families, Alumni and Friends,
According to Diocesan policy, the school administration is not at liberty to discuss individual personnel situations.
The Office of Catholic Schools of the Diocese of Arlington and the Board of Governors of Bishop Denis J. O'Connell High School fully and completely support the school's administration as it continues its effort to create the best possible educational environment for all of its students.
We understand the difficulty of change, but acknowledge that change must occur so that the school can flourish and move forward in meeting present and future educational needs.
With thanks for the tremendous support that the O'Connell community has always provided for our students, we ask that this community now join forces to shape an even greater future.
Kevin Di Gregory
Chairman, Board of Governors of Bishop O'Connell High School
The O’Connell community has yet to receive a sufficient response from the school itself regarding the recent events. So if we are seeing just one side of the story, the blame is on those failing to give us an explanation. Furthermore, the terminations of these faculty members have affected hundreds within the community. So, again, the situation is being interpreted through more than one point of view. And though the school asks that "this community now join forces to shape an even greater future," the community already has — just not in the manner the administration would prefer.
Alumni want the best for their children. O’Connell provides that. It’s a place where students learn the meaning of faith and importance of tradition and receive an education that extends far beyond the walls of a classroom.
The decisions of the current administration have put a damper on the positive aspects of the O’Connell atmosphere.
Every school must cycle through teachers in order to improve, but the manner in which our teachers were removed is both embarrassing and upsetting. I only hope and pray along with thousands of others that justice is served for Harrison and the others who have been mistreated. O'Connell is more than a just a school; it is an institution that becomes your family.
I, for one, remain proud of the way we continue to unite and support one of our own.
Lauren Luxenburg is a 2008 graduate of Bishop O'Connell High School.