Eastside Catholic staff member defends job status

Jan 7, 2014, 5:18 PM | Updated: 6:03 pm

Stephanie Merrow, right, is choreographing her second musical for Eastside Catholic School in Samma...

Stephanie Merrow, right, is choreographing her second musical for Eastside Catholic School in Sammamish. She's also newly engaged to Jenny and she fears she'll no longer have a job at the school. (Photo courtesy Stephanie Merrow)

(Photo courtesy Stephanie Merrow)

Eastside Catholic drama coach Stephanie Merrow was surprised by the circus atmosphere surrounding her family since coming out as gay on The Ron and Don Show Monday.

“It was not what I expected when I called in to the show to give my two cents. News reporters showed up on my doorstep while I was teaching a yoga class,” she laughed.

Merrow said she was leading rehearsals for Guys and Dolls at Eastside Catholic School in Sammamish the day Vice Principal Mark Zmuda was fired for marrying a man.

“Half of the kids weren’t there. They were crying. There was a huge show of support for him…We had what rehearsal we could with so few people.”

Jenny Frazier, Merrow’s fiancé, proposed the following day, and the couple of five years plan to wed in August.

She didn’t plan to come out on a radio show, but Merrow said KIRO Radio’s discussion of the Zmuda story encouraged her.

When she heard the school had sent home an email telling students they would be sent home for further protests, Merrow acted on impulse.

“That was it. I just couldn’t take it anymore. I was going to support those kids in the only way I know how, and that’s to tell the truth.”

The head of Eastside Catholic, Sister Mary Tracy, sent a short statement to KIRO Radio through student Julia Burns Tuesday:

“I look forward to the day when no individual loses their job because they’re married to a person of the same sex.”

Tracy did talk to KOMO Newsradio Tuesday morning:

“School officials, meanwhile, say Merrow is not on the school payroll, is not employed at the school and does not have a contract for 2013-2014.

“Sister Mary Tracy, head of the school, told KOMO Newsradio that Merrow did work for the school’s earlier production of “Footloose” two years ago and had applied for contract work for the school’s upcoming musical, but reiterated that she was not hired.”

Merrow said she was saddened by the school’s allegation, especially because she has proof of her employment.

“They made me get fingerprinted. They made me fill out all their background check paperwork. And they made me fill out an employment application, which said nothing about being gay.”

Merrow sent KIRO Radio a welcome email dated October 21, 2013 from the Eastside Catholic Controller, Kay Nicholls, which included an application and background check documents.

The message begins, “Welcome back to another season of drama production. I am attaching here the necessary forms for continued employment.”

“I guess I’m not surprised, considering what happened with Mark,” Merrow said. “It makes me sad that this is happening.”

A spokesman for the school, attorney Mike Patterson, said he did not know whether Merrow was officially an Eastside Catholic employee.

Meanwhile, student organizers behind the demonstrations in support of Mark Zmuda continue to push the administration for clarity.

Eastside Catholic senior Ian Edwards was in a group of students who met with Sister Mary Tracy Tuesday morning regarding Merrow’s status at the school.

“She assured us that Stephanie, to her knowledge, was not on the payroll. She couldn’t find her on the website under employees,” relayed Edwards. “Sister Mary felt very confident that Merrow was not going to be terminated.”

Sister Mary Tracy indicated to the students that Merrow’s different employment classification protects her in this case.

“She’s a drama employee, so she’s after hours,” Edwards explained. “I believe she (will) turn out all right. I don’t think she would be terminated. I certainly hope not.”

After his conversation with Sister Mary Tracy, Edwards does not anticipate any Eastside Catholic employee will be fired again without recourse.

“(Sister Mary Tracy) expressed regret concerning how Zmuda’s termination, or forced resignation, went down,” he explained. “I would assume things would happen a little differently. I think there would be a lot more discussion before any decision was made.”

Ian said he and others will continue to meet with Sister Mary Tracy until Zmuda and Merrow’s situations are fully resolved.

“We are hoping to accomplish an amendment to the notion that employees of Catholic Schools are unable to maintain their employment if they do marry someone of the same sex.”

Reached Tuesday afternoon, Merrow was still planning to lead “Guys and Dolls” rehearsals after school and she already knows what she wants to tell her students.

“Kids, you’re headed in the right direction.”

KIRO Radio’s Kim Shepard and Nick Jarin contributed to this report.

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Eastside Catholic staff member defends job status