A white headmaster reportedly told an 11-year-old Black student to apologize to a teacher the ‘African way’ by kneeling down to the ground

Yelena Dzhanova-Sun, March 21, 2021, 11:54 AM

  • An 11-year-old Black child is in therapy after his headmaster told him to apologize to a teacher the “African way.”
  • Headmaster John Holian of a Long Island Catholic school asked Trisha Paul’s son to kneel to the ground.
  • Paul said her normally outgoing son has become “really reserved” following the interaction.

A white Catholic school headmaster instructed a Black student to kneel to the ground and apologize, the New York Daily News reported.

On February 25, Headmaster John Holian of the St. Martin de Porres Marianist school in Long Island told Trisha Paul’s 11-year-old son, Trayson, to apologize to a teacher the “African way,” which he claimed to have learned from a Nigerian father, according to the Daily News.

That day, Trayson had completed his in-class reading early and began working on another assignment. His English teacher noticed and called him out on it, Paul told the Daily News. The teacher allegedly tore up the assignment and escorted him to Holian’s office, where the headmaster told Trayson to drop to his knees, the Daily News reported.

Trayson relayed the incident to his mom, prompting Paul to ask Holian whether telling students to kneel in apology was standard practice at the school, the report said.

That’s when Holian told her it wasn’t but that he had learned it from a former student’s Nigerian father, the Daily News reported.

“Once he started mentioning this African family, that’s when it just clicked,” Paul told the Daily News. “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 Trayson is normally an outgoing child but has since been “really reserved.”

“My son was humiliated, hurt, embarrassed, sad and confused,” Paul told the Daily News. “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.”

Trayson has since started going to therapy and is hesitant about going to class in person. He also tries to “stay away from the headmaster and not speak to the teacher if need be,” Paul told the newspaper.

Holian is now on temporary leave following the incident, according to the Daily News.

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

Holian, in response to requests for comment from the Daily News, said “we love our students” at the school, adding that most of the students are non-white. Tuition at the Catholic school costs $15,000 a year, the report said.

The Marianists – the religious chapter overseeing St. Martin’s – did not immediately return Insider’s request for comment.

Paul again confronted Holian at an in-person March 4 meeting. The Daily News obtained a recording of the conversation between the two, during which Holian acknowledged that the interaction between him and Paul’s son “wasn’t a thought-out situation.”

Still, Holian tried to justify the order to kneel before the teacher.

“If I had said to him ‘apologize and get back to class,’ it would’ve meant nothing,” Holian said in the recording, according to the Daily News.”

“So it was changing the way you say ‘I apologize,'” he said.

“I have six kids and four boys. And if one of them is really acting rude and arrogant,” Holian allegedly said, “I will say at times, ‘get on your knees and apologize,'”

“I was speaking to your son as I would my own son,” he said to her, according to the Daily News.

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