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School headmaster suspended after allegedly ordering student to kneel during apology

John Patrick Holian, headmaster of St. Martin de

John Patrick Holian, headmaster of St. Martin de Porres Marianist School in Uniondale, in 2008.   Credit: Newsday/Bruce Gilbert

The white headmaster of a Catholic school in Uniondale has been suspended after allegedly making a Black student kneel before him and a teacher while apologizing, according to the boy's mother and school officials.

John Holian, the longtime head of St. Martin de Porres Marianist School, a kindergarten-to-eighth-grade school, went on a leave of absence while the school investigates the matter, according to a letter sent to parents and provided to Newsday by the school.

"St. Martin’s neither condones nor accepts the actions of our headmaster," Brother James Conway, acting headmaster, said in a separate statement. "The incident does not reflect our long, established values or the established protocols regarding student related issues."

The sixth-grade boy was taken to Holian’s office after an incident in late February in which an English teacher tore up a worksheet he was working on, said Trisha Paul, the boy’s mother.

"I felt as though he instructed him to kneel because he was Black," said Paul, who described her son as Haitian American.

The class was supposed to be reading a text together, but her son, Trayson, instead starting working on the paper since he had already done the reading, she said.

She initially did not believe her son was forced to kneel, but Holian confirmed it, she said.

She said Holian told her in a meeting this month that a Nigerian father had once brought his son to the school and instructed him to kneel while apologizing, since that is commonly how people in parts of African express their sincerity. Holian told her he did not feel the apology would be sincere enough unless her son knelt, she said.

"I was confused because I saw no relevance. My son is not Nigerian," she said.

Holian could not be reached for comment, and the school and the Marianist Brothers who run it did not comment beyond the statements.

Paul said her son is "absolutely different" since the episode.

"He’s been, I guess, quiet. He doesn’t really want to be around people," she said. "He doesn't want to discuss it. He’s very emotional."

Conway said the school, whose student population is predominantly Black and Hispanic, has "restated in the clearest terms what is the established and approved practice for student-faculty interaction."

Paul said her son has been at home studying online since the incident. So has her daughter, a second-grader at the school. She said she is not sure if they will return.

Up until the incident, her son "was doing extremely well" and was on the honor roll, she said. He transferred to St. Martin in October from a charter school in Roosevelt.

She said she enrolled him there because "honestly the school has an amazing reputation academically and the religious learning."

The Marianist Brothers are a Catholic religious order who operate all-boys Chaminade High School in Mineola, widely viewed as a leading private high school.

St. Martin de Porres was on the verge of closing in 2004 due to declining enrollment when the diocese called in the order to take over the school two weeks before the start of classes. Enrollment soared from 120 to 400 within eight years.

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