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Hundreds of students at Eastside Catholic High School in Sammamish and their supporters are continuing their protest for a second day over the departure of a popular vice principal because of his gay marriage.
The protest began Thursday as hundreds staged a sit-in and walkout in support of Mark Zmuda after he resigned this week because the school learned he had married another man. It quickly spread to other area Catholic schools and drew worldwide attention on social media.
Students continued their demonstration Friday at Sammamish City Hill before at least 100 converged on the Archdiocese of Seattle for a rally. They also gathered at a swim meet at Seattle's Rainier Beach community center, where the Eastside Catholic swim team competed. Zmuda had coached the team but a student says he was prohibited from coaching at the meet.
Zmuda was married last year, and students and parents say the popular administrator was forced out after being told his marriage violated school and church policy.
Eastside Catholic High School's senior class president, 17-year-old Bradley Strode, told KIRO Radio's Jason Rantz he was shocked to learn that Zumuda would be leaving the school.
"He's really reached out to student leadership this year to figure out ways to improve the school. As a Catholic, it's hard to believe a faith community that prides itself on loving and caring for all regardless of background - that this would happen to one of our beloved administrators," said Strode.
"You know I don't think what the school did was right," says parent James Wasnick, who learned of the protest from his daughter at the school. "We're very tolerant of everyone and I would hope the school would teach that, and in this case the school isn't teaching that."
School officials say they just recently learned of the marriage and met with Zmuda Tuesday. Despite what the parents and students say, an attorney for the school insists Zmuda resigned voluntarily and wasn't forced out.
"Whether he is gay or not is not the issue," says attorney Michael Patterson. "The issue in this case is that he signed an agreement to adhere to the Magisterium of the Church and that the Catholic Church does not approve of same sex marriage."
Patterson says Zmuda was an "exemplary" administrator and officials at the school will give him a "glowing recommendation."
Principal Sister Mary E. Tracy sent an email to parents Friday afternoon:
Dear EC Community:
The events of the past two days have been trying for all concerned. I assure you that my concern has been to deal with the personnel action regarding Mark Zmuda with the utmost compassion and sensitivity. I regret, however, that some information provided may have contributed to confusion on this matter.
In meetings with Mark, he and I discussed the situation and, although he was disappointed, we reached an understanding that the correct action was for him to submit his resignation. I then met with Archbishop Peter Sartain to inform him of the situation and of my decision and he agreed with the decision.
I deeply regret any concern that may have been created by statements or media reports. Throughout this process we have attempted to respect Mark's privacy and the confidentiality required in personnel matters.
Please know that this decision was difficult for everyone and that I understand your concern for Mark. Be assured that Eastside Catholic School is committed to assisting him in this time of transition.
I ask for your prayers and continued support of Eastside Catholic School which remains committed to excellence in academics and our longstanding Catholic values and tradition reflected in our Touchstones.
Sister Mary E. Tracy, SNJM President and CEO Eastside Catholic School
"We just teach love at our school, and for them to fire someone for expressing love whether it be another man or woman is wrong for me," said one student after school in an interview with KIRO Radio's Brandi Kruse.
"We just want everybody to be fair and we always look at the bible almost every day and it says in the bible that everyone should be equal and treated fairly," added another student.
The protest spread to other Catholic schools in the area. A student at Seattle's Bishop Blanchet High School tells KIRO Radio a number of students staged a sit-in of their own in the school cafeteria as a show of solidarity as news spread via social networks and instant messaging. Students used the hashtag #KeepMrZ2013 on Twitter to draw attention to the cause.
"It's unfortunate for everybody," says parent Wasnick. "I wish the school and the Archdiocese were more tolerant. It's unfortunate for everybody. And it's probably why a lot of Catholics are questioning their faith."
Over 13,000 people have signed an online petition on Change.org demanding Zmuda's reinstatement and calling on the church to change its stand on gay marriage and homosexuality.
A number of alumni have spoken out against the school, threatening to pull financial support over the decision.
"I can tell you my children won't be going there," said Jason Gardiner, a 1992 graduate. "When that envelope [request for donations] comes, I'm throwing it on my fire."
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