Protest, pleas fail to win back band director’s job

pramati@macon.comMay 23, 2014 

  • Students, parents and others rallied for Flint Dollar Friday. Video by Grant Blankenship

More than 60 Mount de Sales Academy students, teachers and supporters marched outside the school Friday and met with the school’s board of trustees to protest the firing of the band director because he plans to marry his male partner.

The school terminated the contract of Flint Dollar, who had taught at Mount de Sales since 2010, after he announced plans to marry this summer in Minnesota, which has allowed gay marriage since 2013. School officials confirmed to protesters that the marriage was the reason why Dollar was terminated.

Many of those marching carried signs that read “We love Mr. $,” “Save Mr. Dollar” and “Who am I to judge?” Others had dollar bills pinned to their shirts and carried their band instruments.

Rosalyn Simpson, a rising senior who organized the rally, addressed everyone at Rose Park in front of the school.

“I speak for the entire band when I say (Dollar) changed our lives, not because of the fact that he loves another man, but because he’s an amazing human being,” she said. “We’re not here to yell at Mount de Sales; we’re here to show we support Mr. Dollar and we want to see the decision (school president David) Held made reconsidered. I want to quote Mr. Dollar: He said, ‘My purpose is not to bring about change, it’s not to get my job back. It’s to teach my students that when you believe in something, you stand up for what you believe in,’ and that is what we are doing today.”

About 20 minutes later, a school official invited parents to meet with Held and several board members inside the school’s auditorium. Officials, however, declined to let reporters attend the session.

Eventually, the parents and students went inside, where they met with school officials for about an hour.

After the meeting, several of the protestors said that while they were pleased for the opportunity to present their arguments to the board, they didn’t think their questions had been answered adequately.

“They allowed the community to speak, but there were no answers,” said Rob Mathis, a Macon resident with no ties to the school. “There was a lot of heartfelt questions, a lot of pain.”

“The issue at hand is an issue of equality,” said Christy McAdams, who attended the event with Mathis. “The decision wasn’t based on (Dollar’s) performance. It was based on his personal preference. I don’t think that should impact whether he’s doing his job adequately.”

An email sent by Held to Dollar on Thursday morning confirmed that there were no job-related issues that contributed to the firing.

“You are absolutely right in your understanding that there is nothing in (your) file that would preclude you from getting a job,” the email said.

Dollar said he had been offered a contract for next school year and signed it earlier this month, only to be told this week that he would not be returning to teach. Dollar said he informed school officials in October about his intention to marry.

School officials told Dollar that the decision to fire him was based solely on his decision to marry, because marriage is a sacrament in the Catholic Church’s doctrine.

The Catholic Diocese of Savannah, which oversees Macon, issued a brief statement supporting the school’s decision: “The Diocese of Savannah supports the decision of the Board of Trustees at Mount de Sales Academy in Macon not to employ Mr. Flint Dollar for the 2014-2015 school term. Mount de Sales is an independent Catholic school sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, under the direction of the Diocese of Savannah concerning its Catholic identity.”

The school’s board of trustees posted a similar statement on the school’s website that stressed the school’s Catholic values.

“The duty of the board of trustees is to preserve the mission started by the Sisters of Mercy,” the statement read in part. “The personnel decision involving the band director is consistent with our duty as the board of trustees.”

‘Differing opinions’

Some parents said Friday that they had heard two board members had resigned over the decision. But Charles Jones, chairman of the board of trustees, said Friday afternoon that he was unaware of any board members resigning.

“Certainly, there have been differing opinions (among the board members),” said Jones, a Fort Valley attorney.

Jones said he is concerned about the school’s reputation, noting that Mount de Sales integrated before other Macon schools did.

“It’s a big concern for the board of trustees,” Jones said. “I’d like everyone to understand that the principles at Mount de Sales might be different than the principles at another school. We abide by the teachings of the Catholic Church. Hopefully, people will go to our website and look at our statement. We certainly don’t want this to be negative for us or Mr. Dollar.”

Dollar’s situation has gained attention through the use of social media. Students have used the hashtag #savedollar on Twitter, and a Facebook page called Save Flint Dollar had almost 1,800 “likes” as of Friday afternoon.

In addition, a petition on asking Held to reconsider Dollar’s firing has drawn nearly 2,000 signatures, some from as far away as Australia and New Zealand.

The petition, written by Annie Blanks, says in part:

“Though we are not aware of the specifics of his termination, it appears as if Mr. Dollar’s ousting was a direct result of his pursuit of legal recognition for his same-sex partnership in a state that legally allows such ceremonies to occur.

“If this is true, we, the students, alumni, parents, faculty, and concerned community members respectfully request more transparency in the decision regarding Mr. Dollar’s termination. Given the Catholic Church’s strict stance against homosexuality, we understand that Mr. Dollar’s choice to wed his partner goes against the Church teachings on which Mount de Sales bases its principles and curriculum. We also are aware that Mount de Sales is an at-will employer, and has the right to terminate employees for any reason; however, the Nondiscriminatory Policy in Section 3.1 of the Employee Handbook clearly reads that our school is dedicated to “prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, national origin or ancestry, physical or mental disability, veteran status, marital status, HIV-positive status, as well as any other category protected by federal, state or local laws.”

Jones said he doesn’t think the school is discriminating against Dollar. He said it’s Dollar’s decision to marry his partner that caused his dismissal, instead of simply being gay.

Dollar said Friday afternoon he was consulting with an Atlanta attorney to see what legal recourse he might have against the school. Dollar said he would have mixed feelings about returning to Mount de Sales in the unlikely event that the board changed its mind.

On one hand, he said, he would like to return because of his students, but at the same time, he said it would be difficult to return to the school after what has taken place.

He noted that over the past day or so, he has received tentative interest from other schools in the midstate, as well as throughout Georgia and Texas. He’s also received many messages of support, including from former students whom he taught in Tennessee.

Dollar noted that other members of the Mount de Sales faculty have reached out to him in support privately, but fear that if they do so publicly, it could cost them their jobs.

Jones said he and Held have been contacted by parents who support the school’s position.

No one supporting Mount de Sales took part in Friday’s march.

Fred Sainz, spokesman for the Human Rights Commission, has consulted with Dollar about the situation. Sainz said it was outrageous that Dollar wasn’t fired until the school year ended, even though Dollar said he told officials about his plans to marry in October.

“They waited until the last day of classes to fire him,” Sainz said. “It’s very manipulative, and their behavior is very un-Christian. ... (The firing) may very well be legal, but simply because something is legal doesn’t make it right. I think the country is quickly changing” on gay marriage.

Jones, however, said he and other board members were unaware of Dollar’s intention to marry until this week.

Grant Blankenship contributed to this report. To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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