Black boy, 11, forced to kneel, apologize, headmaster calls it the ‘African way’

(NY DAILY NEWS) – A white Long Island Catholic school headmaster 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 has learned.

Hempstead mom 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.

But she was even more shocked when Holian, who is white, told Paul, who is Haitian-American, he’d learned the approach from a Nigerian father who said it was an “African way” of apologizing.

“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 said her son is still reeling from the humiliating incident — and the family is grappling with the suspicion he was treated more harshly because of his race.

The normally outgoing middle-schooler has been “really reserved” since the February encounter, Paul said.

“My son was humiliated, hurt, embarrassed, sad and confused,” Paul explained. “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 declined to comment on the specifics of Paul’s complaint, saying only that “we love our students here,” and noting that the “vast majority” are students of color. Attempts to reach a representative of the Marianist Brothers, the religious chapter that runs the school, were unsuccessful.

But after inquiries from The News about the incident, school officials sent a letter to parents Friday saying Holian 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 enrolled her son, Trayson, in the $15,000-a-year Catholic school last October with high hopes.

“I did my research,” said Paul, who works in administration for a hospital. “I placed him where I thought he was in a safe, a warm and loving environment where I thought he would learn.”

Things were going according to plan until Thursday, Feb. 25, when Trayson finished early with his reading and took out another assignment to get a headstart, according to his mom.

Holian, a 17-year-veteran of the school, acknowledged in the March 4 meeting he’d learned the kneeling practice from the Nigerian father of a former student.

“This father came in and said, ‘you’re going to apologize to this teacher the African way, and you’re going to get down on your knees and apologize.’ I’ve never seen that before,” Holian explained.

The headmaster said the practice stuck with him and he thinks it’s an appropriate form of discipline for kids of any race.

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