A White headmaster at a Catholic school in Long Island, N.Y., forced a Black 11-year-old student to kneel down and apologize to a teacher — calling it the “African way” to say sorry, the Daily News reported.
The boy’s mother, Trisha Paul, says it was disturbing enough to learn about the punishment of her sixth-grade son at the hands of St. Martin de Porres Marianist school headmaster John Holian.
“St. Martin’s neither condones nor accepts the actions of our headmaster. The incident does not reflect our long, established values or the established protocols regarding student related issues. We have launched an internal review of the incident and restated in the clearest terms what is the established and approved practice for student-faculty interaction,” acting headmaster James Conway said in a statement on Monday.
Paul’s 11-year-old son Trayson told her that he had begun working on an assignment ahead of time, while the class was still reading the text.
The teacher allegedly ripped his worksheet in front of the class, chastised him for failing to follow instructions and took him to Holian’s office.
Paul’s son informed his mother the day it happened but she was too shaken to immediately confront the headmaster, the mother said. When Holian called on March 1 to discuss First Communion plans, she asked him what had happened.
“He admitted that he asked him to kneel down,” Paul said. “He didn’t acknowledge what happened was wrong or how I felt. … He wasn’t remorseful or apologetic at all.”
Holian reportedly told Paul that he had asked her son to kneel when apologizing because he had once seen a man from Nigeria do so with his son. He described the punishment as the “African and the Nigerian way.”
“When he finished telling this story, I was just on the phone baffled,” said Paul, who is Haitian American. “My child is not Nigerian. We don’t share the same cultures or beliefs. You’re assuming that because my child is Black that he must kneel down as well.”
When Holian and Paul met a few days later in his office, Paul said the educator reportedly added that “he felt that if he [Trayson] apologized standing up it wouldn’t have been genuine.”
Paul, a hospital administrator, told the outlet that her son was singled out for a unique punishment because he is Black.
“This was a racist act,” Paul said. “In other schools when they are disciplined, it’s detention, it’s extra homework, there are other ways to discipline a child. But degrading a child, humiliating them off the basis of generalizing him because he’s just a Black boy, makes no sense.”
Trayson is “just hurt and humiliated,” according to his mom.