Former St. Margaret Mary teacher: 'resignation had nothing to do - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Former St. Margaret Mary teacher: 'resignation had nothing to do with Kenya or Ebola'

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- One week after a teacher from St. Margaret Mary Catholic School returned from a mission trip to Kenya and then resigned from her position amid parental concerns about Ebola, the school blamed the situation on a "communication failure" in a letter sent home to families on Tuesday.

The letter said the school wants to "inform you of the facts as they evolved" involving former religion teacher Susan Sherman so that "the release of this information will help us to begin to heal as a school and parish community." It also states the school has apologized to Sherman and "regrets (her) decision to resign."

The school admits that it asked Sherman to "take a precautionary leave of 21 days with pay and to secure a doctor's note about her health" prior to returning to work in an effort to "protect the well-being of students in light of the uproar."

However, Sherman's husband, Dr. Paul Sherman, said Wednesday the letter sent home to parents is inaccurate and said while the school has apologized for some the problems that developed, "at no time have they accepted their role in creating the problems."

"They sent this letter without our knowledge or permission," Dr. Sherman said. "I believe St. Margaret Mary does not regret my wife's resignation. They regret the problems that have resulted because of it. I also believe they want this to just go away, but I don't think it will go quickly or easily."

Sherman said the October trip to Migori, Kenya was his and his wife's fourth medical mission to that country with the nonprofit organization called Kenya Relief. The nearest case of Ebola is more than 3,000 miles from where they stayed.

In his response to the school's letter, Dr. Sherman said St. Margaret Mary has not "shown the integrity to say 'it's our fault.' They have not said 'this is what we will do to fix the problem.' They have not said 'this is what we will do to make sure it doesn't happen again.'"

"They have refused or ignored our suggestions to resolve the situation honestly and reasonably and have not told us why they refused," Dr. Sherman said. "They have not accepted our offer to give a class concerning our trip to Kenya, Ebola or KenyaRelief."

The letter sent home to families said the school granted Sherman time off to participate in the mission trip and "affirmed her good work."

"We were in full support of her desire to serve those in need and felt that her mission trip would set a positive example for our students," the letter states.

"As the school communicated to parents about her absence and the facts regarding her mission trip, many parents raised fears in light of the Ebola crisis, which was, in fact, thousands of miles away from the location of Mrs. Sherman's mission efforts. This situation occurred in mid-October. At that time fears were rising across the United States. A new or suspected Ebola patient was being named each day. Some St. Margaret Mary parents were distributing media articles naming Kenya as a 'high risk' country and were approaching the local media about their fears."

"The school attempted a 'wait and see' approach, with a pledge to consult with the local health department," the letter explains. "Unfortunately, attempts to communicate facts and reduce fear were unsuccessful, so parish administrators decided to ask Mrs. Sherman upon her return to take a precautionary leave of 21 days with pay and to secure a doctor's note about her health."

"Unfortunately, this information about the requested leave was communicated to parents, but was not effectively communicated to Mrs. Sherman," the letter reads. "While attempts were made to reach her in Kenya, she did not learn of this until she returned. This communication failure is unacceptable, and the leadership of St. Margaret Mary and the Archdiocese has apologized to Mrs. Sherman for this failure."

"Mrs. Sherman, however, communicated to the parish that in light of the poor communication and all that transpired, she felt unwelcome and did not see how she could effectively continue as a teacher. Therefore, she decided to resign."

Sherman said Wednesday his wife did not resign "in light of the poor communication and all that transpired."

"She resigned because she felt she could not trust the administration to treat her with the respect and support she deserves as a member of their teaching staff," he said. "That is the only reason for her resignation. I want to make that clear. In her opinion, she does not trust the administration to have her or the teaching staff's best interests at heart."

Sherman wrote a letter to Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, saying that "unfounded fears" of some parents and parish staff triumphed over "truth and reason."

"Archbishop Kurtz did send a response to my letter, basically acknowledging that he received it," Sherman said. "It was very bland."

Meanwhile, Susan Sherman said Wednesday she hopes to use what has happened as a teachable moment.

The Shermans will be attending an event at Supplies Overseas on Wednesday, a local nonprofit located at 1500 Arlington Avenue in Butchertown, that meets critical health care needs in medically impoverished communities around the world by collecting and distributing surplus medical supplies and equipment.

"This organization is working to get supplies to West Africa to aid in the fight against the Ebola epidemic," Susan Sherman said. "They are doing remarkable work and we are proud to be part of that effort."

Monday through Friday, volunteers sort, organize, repackage and repurpose medical supplies that have been donated to them by local hospitals, she said.

In addition, the Global Missions Health Conference is being held at Southeast Christian Church Nov. 6-8.

Steve James, the executive director of Kenya Relief is in Louisville and will be speaking at the Supplies Overseas event Wednesday.

Susan said she would have "gracefully accepted a 21-day paid leave of absence if I had been treated with dignity and respect."

"My resignation had nothing to do with Kenya or Ebola, but it had everything to do with the way I was treated upon my return," she said. "That's the end of the story as far as I am concerned."

Sherman went on to say that St. Margaret Mary "is an excellent institution of learning with a longstanding legacy of excellence demonstrated by test scores that are consistently above national and local averages."

"St. Margaret Mary's principal and faculty are competent, compassionate professionals who stand tall among the most distinguished faculties anywhere," she said. "In my opinion, it's way past time for the small minority of loudly vocal parents, who spend way too much time criticizing teachers to join the many supportive parents and allow the wonderful teachers at St Margaret Mary to do what they do so well -- teach your precious children."

For more information about Kenya Relief, you can go http://www.kenyarelief.org/. If you would like more information about Supplies Overseas, you can call them at 502-736-6360 or visit their website at http://www.suppliesoverseas.org/

Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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