A group of Northeast High School parents has renewed its demand for the removal of principal Joseph Carducci Jr., saying his fundamental religious beliefs interfere with teaching and counseling programs.
A guidance counselor transferred out of Northeast last month, complaining that Carducci -- a devout Catholic who has publicly stated his opposition to abortion -- instituted a policy requiring teachers to report pregnant students considering an abortion to him so that he could counsel them.
Leonard Sokoloff, who was granted a transfer to Old Mill High School July 15 after seven years as a guidance counselor at Northeast, said the abortion policy was announced verbally at Carducci's first faculty meeting in February. He said the policy interfered with his ability to counsel students. Two other faculty members confirmed Sokoloff's account of the meeting.
"How can someone who has taken a public stand on abortion counsel someone objectively about this issue? This man, with his beliefs, does not belong in the public school system," said Carol Vickery, a spokeswoman for the Northeast Community Family Group, an ad hoc organization of 75 Northeast parents.
School board policy requires teachers to report students they believe are victims of child abuse or who are contemplating suicide. It has no policyfor students who are considering abortion.
Carducci, who replacedJoseph Cardamone as principal Feb. 1, did not returnphone calls to his home and office this week.
Simon Heller, staff counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union's national Reproductive Freedom Project, said any policy requiring government employees to report whether aperson is pregnant is unconstitutional.
"It's analogous to a principal requiring teachers to report any student who is over 18 and whois registered to vote, so he can give them counseling on how they vote," Heller said.
Director of Secondary Schools Shirley Hicks, whowas the principal at Andover High when Carducci was assistant principal, said, "This is the first I've heard of it (Carducci's abortion policy)."
Hicks also said she is "certain" that Carducci "never" said faculty should send pregnant students to him for counseling.
"There is no such policy; you have misinformation from somebody. I knowbecause he indicated to me he did not say that," Hicks said.
Hicks accompanied Carducci to a June 14 meeting with Vickery and parent boosters Linda Tetrault, Linda Grunder and Abner Haynie to sort out the controversy over Carducci's May dismissal of Northeast athletic director Robert Grimm, the parents confirmed.
Carducci's abortion-counseling policy was on the agenda of that meeting and was debated at length, the four parents confirmed.
The group also discussed a Carducci memo asking whether the science department was teaching creationism along with evolution, as well as several students' and teachers' charges that Carducci was censoring the media center by removing an issue of Rolling Stone from the shelves of the library.
When contacted Friday about the incidents, Superintendent of Schools Larry L. Lorton said, "It's a dead issue.
"All of our investigations internally have not substantiated that
Mr. Carducci has crossed over a very ill-defined line between religious beliefs and a moral or ethical stance.
"One of the biggest embarrassments to me about this whole affair, I felt, was the unprofessional and reprehensible behavior exhibited by some of the teachers and parents involved in this," Lorton said. "The most important piece of this puzzle -- the welfare of the students -- is being forgotten in the continuing diatribe against Mr. Carducci."
Northeast Class of 1991 president Ericka Shade was upset to learn about Carducci's verbal abortion policy.
"If I were pregnant and wanted Dr. Carducci to know, I would tell him myself. The students had no idea that they might go to a teacher but then the teacher would turn around and tell Dr. Carducci. A lot of students may not feel they can talk to a family member and have a teacher who they are really close to who they go to. I'm not sure they'd feel comfortable now," Shade said.
Northeast parents angered over Grimm's dismissal presented the school board on July 3 with a petition signed by 1,000 people demanding Carducci's ouster.
Lorton met with the leaders of the group July 10 and dismissed the petition, telling the parents to work out their differences.
An appeal to the school board of Lorton's decision was rejected because it arrived Aug. 12, two days after the 30-day filing deadline.
The Northeast Community Family Group is meeting Aug. 26 in Woodland Beach Inn to prepare for an Aug. 28 rally.
The rally, planned for the front of the school, will protest Carducci's tenure and Grimm's dismissal. It has been scheduled totake place the same day as ninth-grade orientation, Vickery said.