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Wednesday, February 21 Local

Student and her sticker allowed to return to Sacred Heart Greenwich

GREENWICH — Sophomore Kate Murray will continue as a student at Sacred Heart Greenwich — with her Planned Parenthood sticker, her parents announced Monday.

“The school has reversed their earlier decision and is allowing Kate to leave the sticker on her laptop,” Kate’s mother Tracy Murray wrote in an email Monday. “Kate has chosen to continue to display the sticker and is happy to remain a part of such a special community. We are moved by the outpouring of support by the alumnae and the community at large and are heartened by its encouragement of one young woman’s voice.”

Kate Murray was told by administrators of the all-girls Catholic school last week that a Planned Parenthood sticker on her laptop would not be tolerated. She was given the choice of leaving the school immediately or leaving at the end of the academic year, if she kept the sticker on.

The decision drew fierce backlash from alumnae of the school, many of whom sent letters to the administration to express their dismay. More than 2,800 people signed an online petition supporting Kate, as of 4 p.m. Monday. The petition stated “Unless Kate is allowed her freedom of speech, all of my future donations that would have been allocated to Sacred Heart Greenwich will now and forever be donated to Planned Parenthood.”

The story, first reported by Greenwich Time, grabbed headlines online in the New York Times, Washington Post and USA Today, among others, including the Daily Mail and Independent in England.

In an Op-Ed published in Greenwich Time Sunday, Head of School Pamela Hayes suggested that expelling Kate was now out of the question.

“We would never dismiss a student for what she believes or a cause she supports and will not now,” Hayes wrote.

Sacred Heart discourages students from displaying political stickers, banners and buttons on campus and sometimes instructs students to take them down, Hayes wrote.

“Some have misinterpreted our position as opposition to a specific organization or an attempt to shut down independent thinking on our campus,” Hayes wrote. “We believe that despite the powerful role these communications tools may play in the public square, their presence in a private educational environment can stifle learning and limit honest debate ... While, of course, not all messages on stickers are controversial or offensive, political, provocative or promotional displays can have unintended consequences in an academic setting.”

Sacred Heart Greenwich did not have any new comment Monday, school officials said.

The Roman Catholic Church opposes abortion and artificial contraception. Planned Parenthood counts these among its health services, which include cancer screenings, pregnancy care and other women’s health measures.

Bishop Frank Caggiano of the Diocese of Bridgeport consulted with Hayes on her decision to ask Kate to remove the sticker.

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“The Catholic Church’s opposition to abortion is almost universally understood, as is its consistent pro-life ethic, which defends the right to life of all those among us, particularly the most vulnerable in our society,” the diocese said in a statement last week. “As such the diocese fully supports the commitment of Head of School Pamela Hayes to affirm the Church’s teaching, while also recognizing and respecting the right of students to question and challenge as they grow in the learning process.”

As a private school, Sacred Heart Greenwich has a right to regulate student expression on its grounds.

“(The First Amendment) only limits what the government can and cannot do,” said Daniel Klau, professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law, who studies the First Amendment. “It is completely up to the private school to decide how much it wants to respect free expression by its students.”

Nicole Narea, a Sacred Heart Greenwich alumna and legal and political journalist at Law360, said while she respects her alma mater’s legal right to limit student expression, she does not appreciate when that right is applied arbitrarily.

“Pamela Juan Hayes touts school policy of being apolitical outside of the classroom,” she wrote in an email Friday. “Not only does that policy sound wildly unrealistic in 2018, but it has also been selectively enforced. There was a pro-life student club during my time there, and they went down to Washington, D.C. for yearly rallies. Fellow students had Obama campaign stickers on their laptops, but they were not ordered to remove them.”

Alumna Kyra Baldwin, who graduated in 2013, said the school’s pro-life club sometimes gave presentations at the school’s morning meeting that included images of fetuses. She was disappointed when she and some classmates were blocked from starting a Gay Straight Alliance club at the school because the Diocese opposed it, she said.

“We felt the existence of a pro-life club while there was no pro-choice club or GSA allowed was extremely hypocritical, especially when the pro-life club was so active,” she said.

Sacred Heart Greenwich said Monday no pro-life club, pro-choice club or GSA currently exists on campus.

In theology class, Sacred Heart juniors debate abortion, euthanasia and the death penalty, Hayes said in her op-ed, calling that “a far more rigorous and enriching exercise, we believe, than debating a slogan on a locker or laptop.”

Sacred Heart Greenwich parents have shared many opinions over the school’s handling of the sticker situation.

“I support Planned Parenthood and the the amazing and necessary women’s health services they provide,” said Lesley King. “And in addition I support a young woman’s right to have a strong opinion about any issue and express that with bumper stickers or slogans on clothing.”

One mother, who requested anonymity so her daughter would not be retaliated against, said she plans to pull her daughter out of the school at the end of the year.

“I don’t want her there. We marched in the Women’s March. We donate to Planned Parenthood,” she said. “She is in the school because we want her to be able to speak up.”

Another mother, who also is an alumna, and who requested anonymity to protect her daughter, said she thought Kate Murray should have just taken off the sticker right away.

“It is a Catholic school so these are the values that they feel they want to embrace,” she said. “I think this is sad that this is happening.”

However, she noted that her daughter and other students support Kate and want her to be able to keep the sticker.

emunson@greenwichtime.com; Twitter: @emiliemunson

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