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Teacher Sues, Says Blowing Whistle Led to Dismissal

September 07, 2002|WILLIAM LOBDELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A former Catholic high school teacher sued the Diocese of Orange on Friday, alleging he was fired this summer in retaliation for blowing the whistle on his principal's son, who brought a handgun to campus.

After eight years of teaching science at Santa Margarita Catholic High School in Rancho Santa Margarita, Michael R. Bodkin said he was told in June his contract would not be renewed because he hadn't earned his master's degree or required teaching credential.

Bodkin said the school employs other teachers who don't hold advanced degrees or credentials.

Maria Schinderle, diocesan director of human resources, said laws prohibit saying why Bodkin was let go, "but we can state that it had nothing to do with [Principal Merrett Hemenway] or his son."

Schinderle also said the majority of teachers at the diocese's three high schools have teaching credentials or master's degrees, though grace periods are given for some teachers to complete the work.

Hemenway left Santa Margarita in June to become principal at Bishop Amat High School in La Puente. He did not return a call Friday seeking comment.

Bodkin's dismissal came 17 months after Robert J. Hemenway, the principal's son--then 18 and a recent Santa Margarita graduate--was arrested in March 2001 for bringing a gun to the high school.

Authorities acted after Bodkin encouraged his own son, who was a Santa Margarita student, to tell them about the weapon, which Robert Hemenway had displayed in a school parking lot.

In March, a judge dismissed the two counts--a felony and a misdemeanor--against Hemenway, saying he meant no harm and was "displaying youthful exuberance."

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Times staff writer Mai Tran contributed to this report.

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