Protect Black Children – PERIODT.
According to NY Daily News reports, Paul was disturbed to learn this had been the punishment of choice doled out to her son Trayson, a sixth grade student at St. Martin de Porres Marianist school, by school headmaster John Holian. She says she was even more disturbed after Holian told her that the Nigerian father of a former student told her it was an “African way” of apologizing.
According to Paul, Trayson, who she describes as a “well-mannered, honor-roll student,” has become more reserved since the February 25th incident, which she said stemmed from her son finishing his reading early and attempting to get a head start on another assignment. Paul claims her son’s English teacher confronted him about working on the wrong assignment, then ripped up the paper before bringing him to Holian’s office, where he was told to get on his knees and say sorry. Paul spoke with Holian by phone on March 1st, asking him if forcing students to kneel while apologizing was standard disciplinary practice and he acknowledged it wasn’t. He then told her the story about the Nigerian family.
“Once he started mentioning this African family, that’s when it just clicked,” said Paul. “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.”
Paul met with Holian in person on March 4th and according to a recording obtained by the NY Daily News Holian accused the sixth grader of being “disrespectful and rude” to his teacher in front of the other students, claiming that he thought having Trayson get on his knees would add gravity to the situation.
“If I had said to him ‘apologize and get back to class’… it would’ve meant nothing,” Holian said in the recording. “So it was changing the way you say ‘I apologize.’”
During the March 4th meeting, Holian again referred to learning about the practice of kneeling to apologize from the Nigerian father of a former student. He claimed the man said ‘you’re going to apologize to this teacher the African way, and you’re going to get down on your knees and apologize.’
While Holian said he’d never seen that before, he told Paul it stuck with him and that he believes it is an appropriate form of discipline for children of any race. He even added that when disciplining his own six kids he will at times ask that they get on their knees and apologize.’
Holian also offered an apology of his own of sorts to Paul, saying: “I’m sorry if you’re upset. It wasn’t a thought-out situation.”
Paul says her son is in therapy following the incident and is hesitant to resume in-person classes, preferring to “stay away from the headmaster and not speak to the teacher if need be.”
Holian declined to comment about Paul’s complaint specifically, but told the NY Daily News “we love our students here,” and noted the “vast majority” are students of color. After the publication reached out to the school about the incident, officials sent a letter to parents on Friday March 19 revealing that Holian – a 17-year veteran of the school – has been placed on temporary leave while the school investigates:
“I want to assure you that St. Martin’s neither condones nor accepts the actions of our headmaster,” wrote acting headmaster James Conway in the email, a copy of which was obtained by The News. “The incident does not reflect our long, established values or the established protocols regarding student related issues.”
Paul has hired a lawyer and says placing Holian on leave and investigating is a “step in the right direction” for the school, but doesn’t go far enough to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to any other Black students.
Damage has clearly been done. Did we mention this is a $15,000 a year Catholic school?