A white Catholic school headmaster has been placed on temporary leave after allegedly forcing a Black student to kneel and apologize to a teacher, the New York Daily News reported.
The incident purportedly took place on Feb. 25 at St. Martin de Porres Marianist school in Long Island, New York. Haitian-American mother Trisha Paul told the news outlet that her son, Trayson, was told by Headmaster John Holian to apologize to a teacher the “African way,” a style he claimed he learned from a Nigerian father.
It all happened when the sixth grader completed his in-class reading early and began working on another assignment, the mother explained. His English teacher noticed and called the 11-year-old out on it. The teacher allegedly tore up the assignment and escorted him to Holian’s office. It was then Trayson was told to drop to his knees.
Paul said once her son informed her of what had taken place, she immediately called Holian to ask whether telling students to kneel and apologize was standard practice at the school. The headmaster reportedly revealed that it wasn’t and stated he learned it from a former student’s Nigerian father. When she asked for correlation, she was not answered.
Paul told the Daily News, “Once he started mentioning this African family, that’s when it just clicked.” She continued, “Like, this is not normal procedure. I felt there was no relevance at all. Is he generalizing that everyone who is Black is African? That’s when I realized something is not right with this situation.”
On March 4, the mother met Holian in person to talk about the incident. “It was a situation where your son was really disrespectful and rude to a teacher in front of the other students,” Holian told Paul in a recording obtained by Daily News. He added, “The whole idea is for your son to see he can’t speak to women that way.”
Paul said she was never made aware of her son’s behavioral issues and that he was “a well-mannered, honor roll student.” Still, Holian maintained that he thought having Trayson kneel would reinforce the severity of the situation. The 17-year-veteran of the school even said it was something he implemented with his own children.
Trayson has been affected immensely by the event, adopting a more reserved personality, in contrast to his usual outgoing temperament, his mother expressed. “My son was humiliated, hurt, embarrassed, sad, and confused,” Paul said. “He reads about things happening because of your skin color. To experience it… he’s just trying to process it in his 11-year-old brain.”
Holian has since been placed on temporary leave following the occurrence. Acting Headmaster James Conway sent an email to parents, stating, “I want to assure you that St. Martin’s neither condones nor accepts the actions of our headmaster. The incident does not reflect out long, established values or the established protocols regarding student-related issues.” Holian declined to speak on the matter, only stating that “we love our students.” He noted that most students are nonwhite. Tuition at the Catholic institution is roughly $15,000 a year.
Paul told the outlet that her son is now in therapy as he tries to “stay away from the headmaster and not speak to the teacher if need be.” She has also hired a lawyer and feels placing Holian on leave and an investigation is a “step in the right direction” for the school but isn’t enough.