Updated 9.30pm with statement by the Church Schools Association issued by the Curia.
Longstanding headmaster Mario Mallia has been fired after standing by two inclusive programmes at a church-run school in Valletta.
Mallia, the headmaster at St Albert The Great College for some 16 years, said that he had been fired after pushing for measures to improve inclusivity for students of different genders and beliefs. The school is run by the Dominican Order and is part of the Maltese Dominican Province.
Contacted for comment on Tuesday, Mallia said he had been sent a dismissal letter on Monday.
“I want to make it clear that I did not leave, but was dismissed,” he said.
Mallia said that the dismissal letter pointed to instances of "aggravated insubordination".
This he said had followed a letter he received a few weeks ago which pointed to the introduction of a programme meant to encourage children of different religions to discuss their thoughts on important topics.
The programme, called MEET, was designed by educators at the school.
He said the rector of the college had “pulled the plug” on the subject two years ago when it was introduced.
Mallia said he had not sought permission for the introduction of the course.
“I didn’t think I should need permission to promote inclusivity,” he said.
Mallia had been informed of an anonymous complaint against the course.
He said another initiative under his watch - a cooperative run by members of the teaching staff geared toward helping former students with a disability find meaningful employment - was also cancelled.
“We had been working on this for two years, yet we were informed that the rector did not know about it and we should desist from working on it too,” he said.
Furthermore, he had been asked to apologise for suggesting that the role of the college leadership should be clearly defined.
Mallia said another issue raised was his involvement in national politics.
Mallia has contested successive elections on the Green party ticket.
He said it was well known that he was involved in politics, even prior to him becoming headmaster.
He added that it was his belief that schools should promote political participation.
Finally, he said he had also been spoken to about the school being used as a polling station in national elections without permission.
Mallia said the building had been used as a polling station for several elections and this was a form of fundraising for the school.
Sacking sparks outpour of support
Journalist and broadcaster Peppi Azzopardi were among those to react to the news, uploading a post to Facebook on Tuesday.
He said he was shocked to learn of Mallia’s dismissal which he said had come after the educator had helped foster a democratic and respectful environment in the school.
Others to express their disappointment include former president Marie Louise Coleiro Preca who also took to Facebook to say the dismissal was a loss for the students of the college.
NGO Moviment Graffiti said Mallia was sacked for promoting education based on the principles of social justice and inclusion.
Parents and former students also took to social media to defend Mallia's track record as an educator who had made a difference in their lives.
"As a former student of this college, I am disappointed by this inexplicable decision," Luke Caruana posted.
Writer Immanuel Mifsud lashed out at the church, saying he was not surprised by the decision. The church in Malta, he said, was stuck in the past.
Many priests, Mifsud said, seem more concerned with rings, hats, and medals, than with tackling sensitive social issues.
Parliamentary secretary for equality and reforms Rebecca Buttigieg said that Mallia's case was a sign of the need to continue pushing for equality across society.
"In the past years we came across some unjustified opposition to changes for more equality that we wanted to introduce," she said without elaborating. "A case like this shows that the work towards a more inclusive society does not stop."
'A build-up of divergences' - college
Replying to questions, school rector Aaron Zahra said the dismissal was “the result of a build-up of divergences in managerial issues”.
“The Board of St Albert the Great College in the circumstances does not consider it opportune to elaborate further at this stage,” he said.
Zahra added that the school’s students, their education, and holistic well-being were their top priorities.
Curia acknowledges Mallia's 'valid contribution to the educational inclusion'
The Church Schools Association, in a statement issued by the Curia at 9pm said it was saddened that the differences between the board of governors of St Albert the Great College and Mr Mallia, could not be reconciled and led to the decision to end Mr Mallia’s tenure as head of school.
"Notwithstanding the reasons for the dismissal of Mr Mallia, the Association wishes to acknowledge Mr Mallia’s valid contribution to the educational inclusion of disadvantaged students and of students from different backgrounds. He has always been looking for ways to improve the position of those less fortunate," the association said.
It thanked Mallia for his contribution to Church schools over many years in caring for the less fortunate.
"The Association of Church Schools strongly believes that Church Schools should continue to be led through the contribution of lay people and religious and diocesan priests together, as is the case in the majority of Church schools," it said.
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