The white headmaster of a Catholic school on Long Island has been placed on leave after he forced a Black student to kneel in apology, calling it “the African way” to apologize.
The incident took place last month at St. Martin de Porres School in Hempstead, New York. The headmaster was temporarily removed from his job after parent Trisha Paul went to the local press regarding her 11-year-old son’s treatment at the school, the New York Daily News reports.
“St. Martin’s neither condones nor accepts the actions of our headmaster,” Brother James Conway, the school’s acting headmaster, said in a statement. “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,” Conway continued. “Our most important mission here at St. Martin’s is to provide our children with the spiritual and educational foundation that will allow them to lead exemplary lives.”
Paul said she noticed her son seemed sad after school one day late last month. When she asked him what happened, he told her he’d been sent to the headmaster’s office for working on an assignment in his Literature class during designated reading time.
Paul said her son’s teacher took the assignment, tore it up, and brought her son to the headmaster’s office. Once there, Paul said, the headmaster told her son to kneel before the teacher in apology.
“I was filled with all different types of emotion,” Paul told CNN during an interview on Tuesday. When the headmaster called a few days later to discuss dates for her son’s first communion, Paul said she brought it up.
“I asked him what happened,” she said. “He began to tell me a story about an African family that attended the school many years ago.”
According to Paul, The headmaster told her about a former student whose father had once told him to bow when apologizing, calling it “the Nigerian way.”
“I was just at a loss for words,” Paul, who along with her son is Black and of Haitian descent, told CNN. “I didn’t understand the relevance.”
“I was really sad and disappointed,” she said, adding that she went to the school to speak with the headmaster a few days later. “I was hoping to get through to him,” she said.
In his office, the headmaster told the story again, Paul said. “This time, it was ‘the African way.'” She said she tried to convey to the headmaster that he’d “humiliated and degraded my son,” but said she didn’t feel heard.
The headmaster, who was not named by CNN, did not respond to requests for comment.