English teach Jim Zimmerman had taught English at Alter High School in Kettering, Ohio, for 23 years. He was respected, popular, and had received National Board Certification. Then someone anonymously mailed a copy of his marriage certificate to the Archdiocese showing he was married to another man, and his teaching skills were no longer wanted.
Now the Dayton Daily Newsis reporting that students are fighting back against the decision to not renew his contract by holding a protest next to the school. They also have begun to circulate a petition that already has received over 26,000 signatures.
"It was not renewed because of who he is married to: a man.," read the Change.org petition organized by Alter High School students. "This is seen as not right in the Church, but to take away someone's job for this reason is outrageous."
The students were quick to stand up for Zimmerman, who graduated from the school himself.
"He teaches us very important lessons, not just about literature or English but about being a good person, how to stand up for yourself, how to think creatively," Alter student Meredith Russ told the Dayton Daily News. "I think Mr. Zimmerman exemplifies everything it means to be a teacher and to be a disciple of God."
"He's super intelligent, but he makes us think for ourselves -- he gives us space to have our own opinions and voices," Molly Goheen said. "He's one of the best teachers at Alter."
The Archdiocese and school do not disagree about Zimmerman's ability as an educator, but instead say that he violated his contract by being gay and by marrying another man.
"I am not oversimplifying the issue," said David Homan, chair of the school's oard of trustees, in an open letter posted to Facebook. "At its core, it is a very fundamental contractual issue."
He even linked to a copy of the contract which contains a list of activities that run counter to Catholic doctrine and are, therefore, grounds for dismissal according to Homan. They include "cohabitation outside marriage; sexual activity out of wedlock; same-sex sexual activity; use of abortion; use of a surrogate mother; use of in vitro fertilization or artificial insemination; advocacy (defined as presenting or promoting as acceptable) for conduct, lifestyle, positions, policies, programs, causes or movements in contradiction to Catholic social doctrine or morals; and/or flagrant deceit or dishonesty."
Zimmerman himself has remained largely silent on the issue. He did take to Facebook on Sunday to both thank students for their support, but to also publicly defend Alter High School Principal Lourdes Lambert.
"Firstly, I want to say thank you," he wrote in the Facebook post. "That falls short of my debt of gratitude to you all. But that's only part of the reason for this post. I am writing this in defense of Lourdes Lambert."
He wrote of how the school's principal had "encouraged me when I needed encouragement" and "was there when my sister died in 2013" and also when his mother died two years later. He asked that students show their love and compassion, rather than sending threats or messages of anger.
"Consider sending her a short note of encouragement even if she has made some decisions you don't agree with," Zimmerman wrote on Facebook. "No shaming, no disrespect and, please, please, please, no threats."
Homan also called for calm, and asked students to constructively engage in dialogue with the Archdiocese rather than issue threats.
"You may not agree with this policy, and if that is the case, I would encourage you to contact the Archdiocese and communicate your position in a constructive manner."