On March 23 Ventura County Superior Court Judge Henry Walsh ruled that Little Oaks, a private preschool in Newbury Park was within their rights to terminate two teachers that were previously employed there. This came about after these teachers requested a settlement for wrongful termination from the school.
According to an article on Yahoo News, teachers Lynda Serrano and Mary Ellen Guevara were terminated from the Newbury Park preschool in 2012 after they refused to provide a statement of faith and a reference from a pastor before renewing their contracts with the school. The school is owned by Calvary Chapel of Thousand Oaks, who bought the school in 2009.
“They did not believe they should be required to obtain a pastoral reference in order to continue their employment,” said Dawn Coulson, an attorney for the teachers, in a letter according to the Ventura County Star.
Sofia Vega is a liberal studies major at California Lutheran University who will be graduating in May and plans to become an elementary school teacher.
“I think the reason for termination is fair. The school made them aware of the religious faith transition and were given the option to renew the contract by submitting required documents,” Vega said.
Seeing as how this school is a private institution, with a clear religious affiliation, I personally agree with the Superior Court Judge ruling that the school was well within their rights to terminate these teachers and to take the action to file a lawsuit against them when they made the decision to demand a settlement.
“[The teachers] have a right to not sign a statement of faith, but they also need to accept the responsibility in their choice not to do so,” said Heather Sandoval, a data and instructional coordinator at Newmark High School, a public institution in Los Angeles, California.
Little Oaks School filed a lawsuit against the teachers in federal court claiming the teachers violated the school’s and Calvary Chapel’s right to exercise freedom of religion after the two “threatened to litigate and asked for $150,000 each from the school as a settlement,” according to Yahoo News.
“Requiring the teachers to provide a statement of faith and pastoral reference amounted to unlawful discrimination on the basis of religion,” Coulson said, according to the Thousand Oaks Acorn. “Because the school is a for-profit corporation and therefore subject to the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.”
“The teachers need to understand that as employees of any institution, they are agreeing to participate and disseminate that institution’s mission and vision. They are not forced to work at a specific school and can decide to apply elsewhere to other schools which better agree with their own values, beliefs and opinions,” Sandoval said. “If you are not comfortable signing a statement of faith at any particular place, find another school that does not require teachers to sign one.”
I think this argument is invalid. Private institutions at every level, with a religious affiliation or not, are afforded certain rights. The teachers blatantly choosing to disregard and refuse the requests of the school is not to be taken lightly. At pretty much every job, if you refuse to sign required documentation, that is grounds for termination. Why should this teaching job be any different? It should not be different just because a religious aspect is involved, especially since the school is a religious institution.
“As a private entity, the school has the right to do whatever they feel is in their best interest in regard to hiring staff which best reflects the values and beliefs they espouse,” Sandoval said. “Parents pay for their students to attend the school with the understanding that their children will be exposed to certain religious beliefs.”
Cal Lutheran is a private institution, with a religious affiliation, with their own rules and regulations in place. Students as well as staff and faculty are required to abide by certain rules the university has decided would best represent their organization. If you do not like what the school stands for, you are in no way obligated to attend the university or work for the university. You can go somewhere else.
“Unless they are teaching a Lutheran course, I do not think professors [at Cal Lutheran] should be required [to sign a statement of faith]. They may have to know something about it, but not necessarily have to practice its beliefs,” Vega said.
According to the Thousand Oaks Acorn, the teachers have taken jobs at other preschools and have not decided whether to appeal the judge’s ruling. Coulson said the teachers are “devastated about it.”
“Teachers are part of this guarantee to parents that specific religious instruction will be delivered to students,” Sandoval said. “As teachers at a private institution, these teachers gave up certain rights that teachers in public institutions have. They also have other freedoms not available in the public arena.”
I am glad the teachers have went on to find other teaching jobs they are happy and comfortable at, but I hope they do not attempt to violate another institution’s legal rights in years to come.
“I hope I would be given the option to sign it or find a new place where I, as the teacher, and the school shared the same religious beliefs, if I didn’t believe in the statement of faith,” Vega said.
Published April 22nd, 2015