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New Jersey Catholic School Teacher Reinstated After Anti-Gay Facebook Posts

04/14/2015 11:42 am ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

(RNS) -- Patricia Jannuzzi, the veteran Catholic high school teacher from New Jersey suspended for her anti-gay Facebook posts, will be reinstated immediately, school principal Jean Kline said in a letter.

Jannuzzi, a 33-year theology teacher at Immaculata High School in Sommerville, N.J., was forced to deactivate her Facebook page last month after several alumni started circulating screen shots of her sharply worded posts against gay marriage and gay rights. Two days later, the school placed her on administrative leave.

The letter to students and parents, quoting school director Msgr. Seamus Brennan states in part:

“Immaculata High School has reached an understanding with Mrs. Patricia Jannuzzi. It is the School’s position that a Catholic school teacher must always communicate the faith in a way that is positive and never hurtful. Tone and choice of words matter and I trust Mrs. Jannuzzi’s stated promise to strive always to teach in a spirit of truth and charity.”

The letter goes on to say that teachers have been told that if the issue comes up in the classroom, students will be told “this was a personnel issue and not one about theology” and there should be no further discussion about it. Kline encouraged parents to tell students the same thing if the issue comes up at home.

The announcement puts an end to weeks of negotiations between lawyers representing the Diocese of Metuchen, the entity that oversees Immaculata, and Jannuzzi’s attorney, David Oakley.

“I am delighted with the understanding we reached with the school and I admire them for making a careful decision — and I couldn’t be happier,” Oakley told NJ Advance Media.

Jannuzzi was ordered by the school on March 11 to deactivate her Facebook page after alumnus began spreading word of an online petition demanding the school acknowledge her outspoken comments on gay marriage and gay rights.

In one post, Jannuzzi had said she’d love to move to Nebraska, responding to a news story about efforts to fight against same-sex marriage there, asking, “Why can’t the rest of the US be like this?? Why the insanity?” Another post, referencing an article about three lesbians living as married in Massachusetts, asked “Between this and many Egyptian men being beheaded … when will the evil stop?”

She also suggested in another post that gay activists want to cause the “extinction” of Western civilization.

The petition, titled “Stop Public Hate Speech of Teachers,” was started by an alumnus and picked up steam after several celebrities called attention to it, including “Real Housewives of New Jersey” cast member Greg Bennett, who graduated from Immaculata in 2004 and had Jannuzzi as a teacher. Susan Sarandon, whose nephew Scott Lyons is openly gay and also had Jannuzzi as a teacher, shared an open letter to Jannuzzi written by Lyons on Facebook.

Jannuzzi was placed on administrative leave two days later, on March 13.

The announcement prompted Jannuzzi’s two children — who said they were told their mother would no longer receive her salary and benefits — to create an online fundraiser to help benefit the family.

The page, posted on youcaring.org, raised $33,000 of its $100,000 goal from 384 donors. The fundraiser is no longer active — and Oakley said on the site Friday (April 10) that the money raised will be returned.

But, according to a statement released by the diocese, Jannuzzi was never taken off the payroll. The fundraiser was updated following Immaculata’s response to say Jannuzzi was still getting paid, but would not be rehired after her contract ends in August 2015.

The diocese then, again, released another statement, this time directly addressing the legitimacy of the information on fundraising page.

“In keeping with diocesan school policy, decisions for all teaching positions for the 2015-2016 academic year are made later in the spring,” the statement said. “We are baffled and disappointed that there has been a website soliciting funds that is filled with misinformation.”

But on March 12, the day before Immaculata announced Jannuzzi’s suspension, Principal Jean Kline said in an email to Jannuzzi that she would no longer get her salary and benefits.

“After further reflection and upon receiving the advice of the Advisory Council, Msgr Brennan and I have decided to place you on administrative leave without pay effective immediately,” the email states.

Oakley said he was later told in a phone conversation with diocesan lawyers that she would be terminated at the end of her contract.

“At every point in our discussions the diocesan lawyers told us repeatedly there was no way that Patricia Jannuzzi would ever come back to the Immaculata classroom under any possible scenario,” he said.

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