White Headmaster Forces Black 6th Grade Child To Kneel While Apologizing

by Erica Gerald Mason
Originally Published: 

A White headmaster at a Catholic school in New York forced a Black student to kneel as he apologized, the boy’s mother said

Groveling is not the same as expressing sincere regret for one’s misdeeds, an idea of which our former President appeared to need constant reminding. And now, in the latest episode of, ‘Excuse me, what?’ a headmaster has decided that dignity is only something white adults should have.

In news that would make Genghis Khan cringe, Trisha Paul claims when she picked up her 11-year-old son, Trayson, during the daily school run at a Catholic school in Long Island last month, the young boy shared disturbing info. The school’s white headmaster had commanded her son, who is Black, to apologize to a teacher — while kneeling on the ground.

Paul’s son told her that he started working on an assignment ahead of time while the class was still working on another lesson. When the teacher noticed, Paul said, she shredded his worksheet in front of the class and told the child he had failed to follow directions. Then she took him to headmaster John Holian’s office, where he allegedly instructed the sixth-grader to kneel and apologize.

When the child’s mother asked Holian of St. Martin de Porres Marianist School days later, Paul told The Washington Post, Holian didn’t deny his role in the incident, and added that he’d been motivated by a Nigerian dad who did the same to his child — a punishment Holian allegedly called 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.”

“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.” On March 4, Paul met with Holian at the school. The headmaster, according to Paul, repeated the anecdote about the Nigerian father, and told her that “he felt that if he apologized standing up it wouldn’t have been genuine.”

Holian is now on a leave of absence as the school investigates the incident, according to an email the school’s acting headmaster, James Conway, sent to parents.

“I want to assure you that St. Martin’s neither condones nor accepts the actions of our headmaster,” Conway communicated in the email. “The incident does not reflect our long, established values or the established protocols regarding student-related issues.”

The episode has stayed with her son, Paul said. Initially, he asked, “Why me?” and “Why do some people treat me differently because I’m Black?” but as time went on he grew reserved and quiet. In March, Paul said took her son out of the school and placed him on remote learning rather than sending him back to class. “He’s just hurt and humiliated,” Paul said.

“As much as an apology would be great, I don’t think it would erase anything of the impact it’s had on my child,” she said.

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