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Parkersburg priest asks to wear religious habit while teaching

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Parkersburg priest asks to wear religious habit while teaching
By Michael Erb, For The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register

PARKERSBURG - A Roman Catholic priest recently hired as a substitute teacher for Wood County Schools has requested permission to wear his religious habit while in the classroom.

The Rev. George Nedeff, 75, addressed the Wood County Board of Education briefly on Tuesday. Nedeff, who is a member of the religious order SOLT, the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, wears a gray ankle-length habit as a representation of the order and his vows. Nedeff also wears a crucifix and a rosary.

"I am a priest. I am proud of it," he said Wednesday. "I'm proud of the religious order I'm part of, and this is my life now."

Nedeff has been a priest for nine years and recently returned to the area after recovering from a life-threatening illness while serving in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Nedeff, who is a 1959 graduate of Parkersburg High School, has degrees and experience in education and served as a substitute teacher in Wood County prior to becoming a priest.

Nedeff serves as a "substitute priest" on weekends for the Catholic Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, filling in at parishes throughout the area. Nedeff said he fully expects his clothes will generate conversations in the classroom.

"The students are going to want to know about me," he said. "I'll probably introduce myself and give a little talk about myself, what led me to this point, what led me to become a priest."

But Nedeff said he feels students may benefit from having a man of faith in their schools.

"I've read and seen in the news terrible violence that has taken place in schools," he said. "I think the students would have a sense of reassurance by having a religious priest substituting in their schools."

Nedeff also said he believes he has the support of the community.

"I've had such wonderful comments and response from people," he said. "I sense very strongly that the people in this county are glad that I'm doing what I'm going to do."

Board members deferred the decision to Superintendent John Flint, who Tuesday evening said while he couldn't give Nedeff "an absolute yes right now, we want George Nedeff in our schools."

Nedeff said Wednesday he felt that was an endorsement from Flint.

"I received permission," Nedeff said.

"We respect and appreciate Father Nedeff's request, but there has been no decision made at this time," Flint said Wednesday. "We know him and he is very sincere and very heartfelt, but we have to do our due diligence."

Kristin Anderson, executive director of communications for the West Virginia Department of Education, said there is no state code which specifically allows or prohibits the wearing of religious vestments in a classroom.

However, Anderson said federal code provides conflicting guidance on the issue.

"Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires employers, including schools, to reasonably accommodate the religious practices of an employee, unless doing so would create an undue hardship on the employer," she said. "Yet public schools must also comply with the U.S. Constitution's Establishment Clause, which prevents employees from advocating a particular belief system in front of students."