LEWISTON — The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland has ruled on the appeal of one of seven teachers recently fired from Trinity Catholic School.  

Citing confidential personnel issues,
Catholic Schools Superintendent Sister Rosemary Donohue declined to say what that ruling was.

But the teacher, Pandora Lawler, said her appeal was denied and she is talking to a lawyer about her legal options.

To fire the teachers “without notice, without any sense of
responsibility for taking care of us, after, for many, more than 30
years of service, fails to follow many of the most fundamental
principles of our religious teachings,” Lawler said in a statement
released Tuesday. “In treating each other like this, we weaken the
fundamental principles of the church itself.”

At the end of the school year, seven teachers were abruptly fired from Trinity, a pre-kindergarten
through grade eight Catholic school with an elementary campus on Baird
Avenue and a junior high school on Main Street. Administrators have said the teachers were let go because enrollment
has been declining and the school couldn’t afford to keep them.

But
many parents, students and alumni didn’t believe Trinity had to fire
teachers, and they questioned why the school chose to dismiss those
particular teachers, some of whom have decades of experience. Lawler, for example, taught at Trinity and its predecessor, St.
Joseph’s School, for a total of 34 years. 

Fifty to
70 people protested the firings at a school board meeting in June. Soon after, parents, students and alumni started a letter-writing
campaign, asking the diocese to reconsider the decision.

At least one of the seven teachers — Lawler — officially appealed the firing. At the end of June, Donohue held a closed-door hearing on the appeal. 

A couple of weeks later, Lawler learned her appeal had been denied. 

In a written statement of his own, Lawler’s husband, Jim Lawler, called the denial letter that his wife received “cold, insensitive, disrespectful and without empathy.”

“She was basically told to ‘clean out your classroom and turn in your keys by  July 20th,'” his statement said.

On Sunday, a day before that deadline, Lawler cleared her classroom. 

“Cleaning out my classroom on Sunday was the hardest task I have ever been given, and the saddest day of my life!” she wrote in her statement. “I am so devastated!!! I will miss you, fifth grade.”

Because the appeal involved personnel issues, Donohue declined to comment on it, saying only, “The process has been completed and a decision has been rendered.”   

Donohue acknowledged that Trinity is planning to hire a teacher for fifth grade — the same grade Lawler taught. That has angered Lawler’s supporters because school administrators have asserted that Lawler and the other teachers were fired because of low enrollment and lack of money.

School board member and parent Peter Bolduc continues to circulate a petition
calling on the diocese to bestow more power upon the school board. He
started the petition soon after the 50 to 70 parents, students and alumni protested the firings at a June school board meeting.

“I don’t think the dissent or the discontent with the process is any less, that’s for sure, especially when the final ruling came down on Pandora Lawler, that (her appeal) was denied,” Bolduc said. “There was an anticipation and a hope that maybe given an opportunity to revisit it, people could make the right decision and move on. That didn’t happen.”

Trinity was formed in the fall of 2006 with the
merger of three Catholic schools: Holy Cross and St. Joseph’s in
Lewiston and St. Peter and Sacred Heart Elementary in Auburn. Trinity
opened with about 600 students; it now has 477.

The school’s
Web site listed 38 teachers for this past school year, including those
for art, music and computer. The seven fired teachers represent 18
percent of the school’s teaching staff.

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