Pompallier Catholic College‚Äôs Board of Trustees last month fired the popular science teacher because he supported students who protested the principal Richard Stanton's column against marriage equality, in a school newsletter.
Among the five reasons he‚Äôs since been given are contribution to a Facebook page against the column, organising student opposition and speaking to the media about the situation.
Studdart is fighting the decision with the support of secondary teachers‚Äô union the PPTA. He‚Äôs still struggling to get his head around the fact that he, in 2012, has been dismissed for expressing a personal opinion.
‚ÄúI find it hard to believe that we‚Äôre actually engaged in this battle now,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúIt seems madness.‚ÄĚ
He tried to engage with the principal, he says, offering to bring in an external mediator right up until the Board meeting where he was sacked. He‚Äôd hoped Stanton could be enlightened.
‚ÄúI think sometimes as the principal of a school you become quite insular and wrapped up in your opinion. I think it‚Äôs important to realise the rest of the world out there has different opinions and they‚Äôre changing,‚ÄĚ Studdart explains.
It wasn‚Äôt a conscious decision, to support the students, but something he explains simply happened naturally. He says the school‚Äôs own doctrine encourages pupils to think for themselves and be constructive in their debate and opinions. ‚ÄúHow can we tell them that they‚Äôre not allowed to hold a contrary opinion and try and shut that opinion down? As a teacher, surely your primary responsibility is to encourage your students to think for themselves.‚ÄĚ
On the feedback
‚ÄúThe gay community has been incredibly supportive and incredibly inclusive. And it‚Äôs really nice to have that support. I really appreciate it.
‚ÄúI mean obviously I feel really upset that I‚Äôve lost my job, but I couldn‚Äôt have done anything else quite honestly. And every time I get another message it really confirms what I did was the right thing to do.‚ÄĚ
When asked about the impact on gay students at the school, and whether it‚Äôs a safe environment for them, he is clearly extremely concerned. Not so much about prejudice within the student body, who he says are mostly ‚Äúreally well-balanced and outstanding men and women‚ÄĚ, but about the message the school is sending.
‚ÄúFar more of a concern to me is a culture which would endorse that sort of prejudice, and that really worries me. It‚Äôs a shocking message, I think, that the school is sending to the community and to the children. And I think the reaction of parents in terms of withdrawing their kids from the school and looking for other schools certainly endorses that.‚ÄĚ
The upshot is he‚Äôs had several messages from gay students at Pompallier, thanking him for his stance, saying they didn‚Äôt realise how much support they had in the school. ‚ÄúAnd I think that‚Äôs important. This is not an issue with other students,‚ÄĚ he says.
Messages have come from young people outside the school too, one which brought both he and his wife to tears. It was a thank you from a young man who went through the Catholic education system and had an awful time.
Where to from here?
‚ÄúBut hey, that‚Äôs life, I‚Äôll deal with that next year and see what we can do. But in the meantime I have by no means give up yet. I certainly will not be giving up without a fight.‚ÄĚ
In fact he is absolutely confident he can win. ‚ÄúI‚Äôd be very upset if I didn‚Äôt,‚ÄĚ he says.
‚ÄúBut we are fighting, I suppose, the Catholic Church here and that‚Äôs a fairly large organisation to take on,‚ÄĚ he laughs wryly.
‚ÄúBut surely free speech is something we‚Äôre all entitled to - including students and their parents.‚ÄĚ