St. Mary band director fired for gay wedding plans

(UPDATED WITH FULL STORY)
Alissa Widman Neese
Jan 11, 2014

 

Sandusky Central Catholic School forced its band and choir director to resign this week, shortly after officials learned he and his boyfriend recently became engaged to be married.
 
Brian Panetta, who is in his fifth year of employment, initially received a letter of termination Jan. 3, which stated he was fired for violating the moral and religious teachings of the Catholic Church.

This letter came just hours after Panetta approached the school’s president about his engagement, to discuss if an end-of-the-year resignation would help avoid any conflicts concerning his gay relationship, he said.

On Thursday, however, Panetta met with school administrators, a priest and representatives from the Catholic Diocese of Toledo, who offered more information and agreed he could resign instead of having a termination on his record, he said.    

“I’m satisfied with their explanation, and right now I’m just praying for understanding and strength,” Panetta said. “It’s hard for me to walk away, but it’s what’s best for me personally, and I hope my students will understand that.”

Panetta and his fiancé, Nathan David, started dating while attending the University of Dayton five years ago. They plan to wed in July 2015.

Their relationship wasn’t a secret to the Sandusky Central Catholic School community, as David often attended school events and met several students and their families, Panetta said.

“This community has been like a family to me, and I’ve always had nothing but support,” Panetta said. “I never had to hide.”

After David popped the question on Christmas Day, however, Panetta said he knew things could get complicated.

All Sandusky Central Catholic School employees must sign a contract stating they will live a lifestyle according to the Catholic faith, he said.

“I knew if we ever wanted to get married, it would limit my time teaching at the school I love,” Panetta said. “When I met with the diocese, they basically told me my engagement is a public statement of my support for equality for gay marriage, which the Catholic Church does not support.”

Panetta identifies as Catholic and attended Catholic school for grades K-12. He said working at Sandusky Central Catholic School was an ideal first job.

In his four and a half years working there, Panetta grew the school’s band from 18 to about 50 members, and also produced similar numbers for its choir. He oversaw band for grades 5-12 and choir for grades 7-12.

Panetta said he still doesn’t feel his work is done, but he understands why he is no longer permitted to work at the school. After Thursday’s resignation agreement, he said he feels he is stepping down with the school’s support.

He distributed a letter to the school community Friday that announced his resignation and his engagement to David, in which he called himself a “proud and gay Catholic”

“The hardest part was not getting to speak to (my students) about it, so I’m thankful for that opportunity,” Panetta said. “Everyone knows about my lifestyle, and I always thought the best way to handle this was to be upfront, honest and proactive. I just wanted to provide clarity about this situation”

It’s unknown who will take over Panetta’s job, as students resumed classes Thursday after winter break extended three extra days because of bad weather.

After the Register left a message for Sandusky Central Catholic School president Melody Curtis on Wednesday, she responded within minutes with an emailed statement.

“Mr. Panetta is no longer employed at Sandusky Central Catholic School,” the statement said. “We do not discuss personnel situations with the media.”

Two days later, however, she emailed a revised statement, which she also distributed to the school community.

“It is with great sadness that we extend to you that Mr. Brian Panetta has resigned his position today as director and coordinator of music at Sandusky Central Catholic School,” it said. “Although parting ways is never easy, especially in the midst of a school year, we would like to thank Mr. Panetta for his devotion and service to the school, and the gifts and talents he brought to the music program.”

The statement also provided a link to Panetta’s letter, both of which will be available on the Register’s website.

The school hired Curtis as president this past summer after adopting the president-principal administrative model for the first time. She was previously executive director of Monroe Catholic Elementary Schools in Monroe, Mich., and has almost 15 years of experience in Catholic education.

Sally Oberski, director of communications for the Catholic Diocese of Toledo, which oversees Catholic schools in Northwest Ohio, said she couldn’t offer any additional comments about the situation when contacted Thursday.

A Catholic school’s decisions involving personnel are “local decisions,” and the diocese’s role is simply to be available for consultation if the school desires it, Oberski said.

“The school has a governing board, a president and a principal, and it’s a local decision,” Oberski said. “There’s nothing more I can tell you than what the local leadership has told you.”

Because Sandusky Central Catholic School is not funded by taxpayer dollars, it is not required to release personnel files or other documents to the Register.

Click here to read letter from school's director

Click here to read letter from Panetta to students

Click here to visit Brian Panetta's website

Comments

John Harville

The Prayer of Melody Curtiss as executive director of Monroe Catholic Elementary Schools, Monroe, MI.

"Merciful Lord,
you call us to follow your wonderful ways, and to live in the light of your peace.
May we always listen for the sound of your voice
and pay attention to the love you give.
All that you make and do is good!
May we live according to the nature
you gave us
and do the good you intend us to do.
Amen"

Amen... now, Melody Curtis, practice what you pray.

John Harville

While Executive Director at Monroe Catholic Elementary Schools in Monroe Michigan through 2012, Melody Curtiss took the three elementary schools in a 'new direction' which cost the three parishes large amounts of money, changed the philosophy of education - then left the new system in its inaugural year to come to SCCS - having no prior high school experience. She had no prior experience in administering a high school program.

John Harville

"Family (husband Mike and two sons) always comes first to Mrs. Curtis, as they give her the fuel to do more in life beyond being a mother and wife.She believes that she has a responsibility to take care of herself as a learner and a dreamer, carrying forward a message of hope to her young students at All Saints Catholic School." - from the Monroe Catholic Elementary Schools website.

John Harville

"May we live according to the nature
you gave us
and do the good you intend us to do."

Part of a prayer written by Melody Curtis.

sugar

But she (Melody) has no problem destroying the life of a man who gave his heart, soul and love to the students she professes to care for.

Roman_Ryan

DEAR MEDIA,
There comes a time when two wolves go head-to-head. One representing good and the other representing bad. The bad one symbolizes: hate, anger, sorrow, media, superiority, ego, and pride. The good symbolizes: class, love, charity, compassion, hope, empathy, joy, and peace. And the one that wins..... is the one you feed. Choice wisely.
-SMCC STUDENT

sugar

I thought I knew everything in high school too. lol

John Harville

SMCC STUDENT and Panther need to understand this entire discussion was generated by THEIR PRESIDENT-PRINCIPAL who had alternatives:
Teach til end of year.
Resign now "for personal reasons" with contract paid in full through year-end.
Put her entire district - AND THE STUDENTS - in the national spotlight.

She ruined her previous school which may never recover... and now she's come here to do the same.

Dcfred20036

Attention Panther Band members: I received the following message from Seattle intended for you guys. Other Catholic students all across the country are hearing about this story and are with you.

Hi. I'm a recent graduate of a Seattle-area Catholic high school, and I wanted to let you know that there are a ton of us who support you. Just before Christmas break, the vice principal at one of the other Catholic high school in our Archdiocese was fired when it was found out that he had married his same-sex partner. Living up to Seattle's reputation for liberalism, the student sit-in at Eastside Catholic soon spread to other schools, and now there is a whole movement of young people who refuse to let this go. I only heard about what happened with you guys on tumblr and I don't think it's been widely reported, so not many people over hear have heard, but I strongly urge the Sandusky Central students to visit the KeepMrZ2013 page on Facebook or the blog on tumblr to get in contact with a huge group of people who stand with them and want to change the world. I don't know if this is the most effective way to get the word out to you guys, but I couldn't find any way that I might contact the student body or a group opposed to Mr. Panetta losing his job. I promise that you will find overwhelming support from your fellow Catholic school kids out here in Washington state if you just say hi on the movement's Facebook page. We're behind you 100%.

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