Annunciation’s response to video frustrates parents

Teacher at Catholic school was rebuked after showing video mentioning same-sex union

Parents at Annunciation Catholic School have expressed frustration with the sex education curriculum at the Windom school and with parish priest Brian Park’s beliefs about homosexuality. Photo by Zac Farber

Parents at Annunciation Catholic School have expressed frustration with parish priest Brian Park, who oversees the school, for reprimanding a popular teacher who showed fifth-graders a YouTube video produced by a French humanitarian group. The video, which touches on the refugee crisis, income inequality, human trafficking, child labor and discrimination, includes a clip of a woman talking about leaving her husband to “be with a woman.”

The teacher showed the video during a project in which students researched topics such as food scarcity, affordable housing and equal rights for people living with disabilities.

Concerns over Annunciation’s response to the video were raised at a mid-July meeting convened by the Windom school, which was attended by well over 100 parents of current and former students. One parent said he thought the situation was a “complete disaster” and one said he was unsure why people felt threatened by the video. Another said she hoped her kids could see the video someday.

The teacher, who resigned before the end of the school year, said at the meeting that she felt she was treated unfairly. (She asked that her name not to be used in this story to protect her personal and professional reputation.)

Park wrote in an email that he could not discuss employment matters, but he believes in the Roman Catholic Church’s teachings about homosexuality. The church holds that sexual activity outside of a heterosexual marriage is a sin.

The school expects its staff to adhere to the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis’ “Justice in Employment” policy, Park wrote. The policy says employees can be “immediately discharged” without progressive discipline for public conduct inconsistent with church morals, teachings and laws.

While some parents have voiced support for the school’s administration, others have expressed concern about Park’s beliefs about homosexuality and the school’s sex education curriculum.

Speaking at the end of the meeting, Park said the school will no longer work with an outside company that he said provided a censored diagram of the female reproductive system.

Lisa Giddings, the mother of an eighth-grade student, told the Southwest Journal in an email that she and her wife believe the school council showed “excellent leadership” in organizing the mid-July meeting.

“Members of the church and school communities are just beginning this process of openly working through any differences,” she wrote. “We remain hopeful that all will listen with open hearts and that leadership will address the concerns that are raised.”

Park, 38, has been the Annunciation Parish priest since July 2015. He wrote in an email to the Southwest Journal that he works “collaboratively” with the principal on all school issues, though he said that any disciplinary decision is ultimately his to make and that the Archdiocese doesn’t usually involve itself in parish personnel matters.

The Archdiocese declined to answer questions about its employee discipline policy or its expectations around how homosexuality is taught in its schools. Bishop Andrew Cozzens sent the Southwest Journal a statement expressing support for Park and urging Annunciation families to “remain in dialogue” with parish and school leaders.

Annunciation is a pre-K–8 Catholic school. It’s part of the 97-year-old Annunciation Parish. It’s one of 91 Catholic schools within the Archdiocese, a 12-county region encompassing the Twin Cities and parts of southern and east-central Minnesota.