Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland, Oregon, has closed his archdiocesan Department of Catholic Schools amid backlash over a new gender identity document for students. The unexpected move appears to indicate that nearly all oversight of Catholic schools across Western Oregon will now be done instead by other chancery staff and parish priests.

The measure has triggered speculation and confusion, while also rattling many members of the Catholic school community who already were distressed following the release of the gender-identity guidelines in January.

Charlene Hannibal, a parent of students at All Saints School in Portland, called the decision “alarming and strange.”

“It seems combative and confusing, and with so little communication around this and the gender document, it leaves people with fears and not knowing what’s true and what’s not,” she told NCR.

Some background, from The Oregonian:

Hundreds of Portland area families whose children attend Catholic schools are protesting western Oregon Archbishop Alexander Sample’s guidance that schools under the church’s umbrella not recognize transgender and nonbinary students’ pronouns and identities.

Sample quietly released the 17-page document in January, when it was billed as a “teaching and formation resource” and not a mandate for the 41 archdiocesan schools, which stretch from Portland to Medford and include Central Catholic High School and 15 K-8 schools in Portland.

But as the school year drew to a close, teachers and families around the metro area said some schools, including St. Rose School in Northeast Portland, began to treat the recommendations as requirements, including asking faculty members to pledge that they would uphold them. Rumors began to fly that more schools would be required to follow suit by next school year and that teachers who left as a result would not be welcome at other schools in the system.

At St. Rose School, a K-8 which experienced a boom in enrollment during the pandemic as families sought out schools that were open for full day in–person learning, at least three faculty members refused to sign off on the archdiocese’s guidance and their contracts were rescinded, according to an educator there who requested anonymity because they are seeking alternative employment within the Catholic school system.

Dozens of students responded by refusing to attend Mass and wearing pins and shirts in support of transgender rights, supported by parents who volunteered to provide child care. By the end of the year, many families had decided not to return in September, including 30% of families with kindergarteners, according to faculty members and parents.

“It is really hard to deal with leaving a place that you don’t want to leave,” said a former St. Rose School teacher, who was considering legal action. “I am doing this for the right reasons, but I don’t want to do it. It is a wonderful community. Everyone is so kind.”

The mother of a child who decided to leave St. Rose School after receiving notification that the archbishop’s guidance would be official policy by September said she was heartbroken. She, too, spoke on the condition of anonymity to guard her child’s privacy.

“We felt lucky to have this educational environment for our kids even as non-Catholics,” she said. “This entire situation is creating so much harm, in the name of preventing imaginary harm. It’s been hard to watch.”

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