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Originally published December 20, 2013 at 9:59 PM | Page modified December 20, 2013 at 10:22 PM

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Social media spread furor over Eastside Catholic firing

Protests over the dismissal of Eastside Catholic school’s vice principal spread beyond the school Friday.


Seattle Times education reporter

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Condemnation of Eastside Catholic School’s dismissal of its gay vice principal for marrying his partner — ignited by student protests Thursday — grew louder Friday with demonstrations in Sammamish and downtown Seattle.

Disapproval has spread far wider over social media, especially among Eastside’s far-flung alumni. Many are returning to the Seattle area for the holidays and reunions with classmates.

So far, at least, the voices of anger over the school’s dismissal of vice principal Mark Zmuda have been louder than the voices of those who may support the school’s decision.

Either way, there were no signs Friday that the issue would die down during the Christmas break.

“I’m getting texts from all over the country and all over the globe. I’ve got somebody in Thailand who is upset about it,” said Mary Kopczynski, a 1996 Eastside Catholic graduate and CEO of a financial-consulting firm in New York City, who is coming home for Christmas week. “This is not small, and this is just the beginning.”

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Seattle could not be reached Friday to discuss the reaction Zmuda’s dismissal has received, either positive or negative.

School authorities said they learned about two weeks ago that Zmuda had married his partner over the summer.

They met with him on Tuesday and, according to the school’s attorney, everyone present — including Zmuda — agreed that he couldn’t remain on staff because the Catholic Church opposes same-sex marriage. His last day at the school was Friday.

“Mark’s same-sex marriage over the summer violated his employment contract with the school,” the school said Thursday in a letter to parents.

When students learned about it Thursday morning, they staged a sit-in and rally that attracted wide media attention and prompted other area Catholic high-school students to show solidarity.

One 2006 Eastside Catholic alumnus, Corey Sinser, tried to organize a show of support for students at the school early Friday. But that got derailed when the school decided late Thursday to cancel Friday classes.

“I still went out there, out of principle,” Sinser said.

After standing vigil alone for a while Friday morning, he drove by a couple dozen high-school students holding signs in front of Sammamish City Hall and waving at drivers.

Friday afternoon he attended a rally in front of the offices of the Archdiocese of Seattle organized by Social Outreach of Seattle, which brought together students from area Catholic high schools and gay-rights advocates.

“Ed Murray showed up, the mayor-elect,” Sinser said. “He spoke to us for a couple of minutes about his Catholic upbringing and how he handled his homosexuality in light of the Catholic doctrine, which was pretty inspiring.”

Kopcynski, the New York CEO, who was the school’s student body president her senior year, said she’s already penciled in an alumni gathering for next Saturday.

“Every time I look at my Facebook I have another 50 alerts of more people talking about how upset they are,” she said.

She and her husband, Jeffrey “Red” Kopczynski, an attorney, graduated together from Eastside Catholic.

A letter “Red” Kopczynski posted on his Facebook page to school administrators, opposing Zmuda’s dismissal, was widely shared, and Mary Kopczynski’s spoken with others who are talking about more direct actions, she said.

“I’ve already heard from people who are talking about pulling their kids” or ending their financial donations, she said.

At the same time, she is also hearing from people who accept the school’s rationale with resignation, or fully support it.

“I’ve had a number of people that have reached out saying, ‘Hey, the school’s hands were tied, it’s an unfortunate situation,’ or they said, ‘They followed the church’s teaching, move on,’ ” Kopcynski said.

Others may disagree with what the school has done, but say they won’t abandon it.

“I don’t believe that this was the right decision, but I’m not going to withdraw my support,” said Nancy Walton-House, whose son Clay graduated from Eastside Catholic in 2001.

She said gay marriage is not an easy question for the church.

“As an older, practicing Catholic — I’m 71 — I know we’re living through a time of great change,” she said.

“It’s complex. I believe that the Catholic Church will come to the point where we will legitimize gay marriage. But it’s going to take time.”

Seattle Times education reporter Claudia Rowe contributed to this report.

John Higgins: 206-464-3145 or jhiggins@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @jhigginsST



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