Headmaster 'forced black pupil to kneel, apologize in "African way"'

Catholic school headmaster ‘forced 11-year-old black student to kneel and apologize to his English teacher because it was the “African way” to say sorry’

  • John Patrick Holian has been placed on leave by a Long Island Catholic school 
  • Holian is headmaster at St. Martin de Porres Marianist School in Uniondale 
  • On February 25, he disciplined a sixth grade student, 11-year-old Trayson Paul 
  • Paul, a black boy from a Haitian-American family, got in trouble at English class 
  • Teacher brought him to Holian’s office after he was ‘doing wrong assignment’ 
  • Holian made Trayson get on his kneels and apologize, according to boy’s mother 
  • Holian reportedly told boy’s mother that this was the ‘African way’ to apologize 
  • Trayson’s mother, Trisha Paul, said she was outraged by headmaster’s comment 

John Patrick Holian (pictured), the headmaster of a Catholic school on Long Island, has been placed on leave after an incident involving an 11-year-old black student

The white headmaster of a $15,000-a-year Long Island Catholic school forced an 11-year-old black student to kneel down and apologize to a teacher because doing so was the ‘African way’ to seek forgiveness, it has been alleged.

John Patrick Holian, the headmaster at St. Martin de Porres Marianist School in Uniondale, New York, has been placed on leave while the school investigates.

DailyMail.com has sought comment from the school and Holian.

Holian’s suspension stems from an incident last month involving a sixth grade Haitian-American student, Trayson Paul, according to the New York Daily News.

On February 25, Trayson was in English class when he finished a reading assignment and started a different task because he wanted to get a head start, according to his mother, Trisha Paul.

That’s when Trayson was scolded by the teacher for doing the wrong assignment, Paul said.

The teacher took Trayson to the headmaster’s office. It was there that Holian allegedly told Trayson to kneel and say sorry.

Holian is said to have told Trayson that kneeling and apologizing was a method of seeking forgiveness that the headmaster learned from a Nigerian father of a former student who claimed it was the ‘African way.’

Haiti is a North American country in the Caribbean Sea. 

‘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.’

The boy’s mother said that the family suspects Trayson was treated more harshly due to his race.

She said her son, who is normally an outgoing and socially active kid, has become ‘really reserved’ since the incident. As a result, he has started to see a therapist, according to Paul.

Holian is headmaster at the $15,000-a-year St. Martin de Porrest Marianist School in Uniondale, New York (above). According to the New York Daily News, Holian forced a black sixth-grader from a Haitian-American family to kneel and apologize to a teacher because it was the ‘African way’

‘My son was humiliated, hurt, embarrassed, sad and confused,’ the concerned mother 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.’

Holian told the Daily News that ‘we love our students here’ while noting that the ‘vast majority’ of matriculated kids are students of color, though he declined to comment on the specifics of the allegations.

On Friday, school officials sent an email to parents informing them that Holian was placed on temporary leave while the matter is being investigated.

‘I want to assure you that St. Martin’s neither condones nor accepts the actions of our headmaster,’ acting headmaster James Conway wrote to parents in the email.

‘The incident does not reflect our long, established values or the established protocols regarding student related issues.’

Paul, who works in hospital administration, said that she enrolled her son in the school last fall.

‘I did my research,’ she said.

‘I placed him where I thought he was in a safe, a warm and loving environment where I thought he would learn.’

She said that when Trayson told him about being forced to kneel, she initially gave the school the benefit of the doubt.

But on March 1 she asked Holian about the incident over the phone.

The boy’s mother was outraged after Holian told her that he learned the method of discipline from a Nigerian father of a former student who said it was the ‘African way’ to apologize

When she wondered if forcing students to kneel was a common practice to mete out discipline, Holian acknowledged that it wasn’t, according to Paul.

That’s when the headmaster told the mother of the anecdote about the Nigerian family.

‘I asked the headmaster how the story was relevant,’ Paul said. The headmaster did not give a clear response, she said.

The mother said she was left with the impression that Holian thought the punishment was appropriate simply because Trayson was black.

Paul then met Holian face to face on March 4. The Daily News says that it obtained a recording of the meeting.

‘It was a situation where your son was really disrespectful and rude to a teacher in front of the other students,’ Holian told Paul.

‘The whole idea is for your son to see he can’t speak to women that way.’

Paul said that the school never complained in the past about her son’s behavior, noting that Trayson is a ‘well-mannered, honor roll student.’

In the recording, Holian is alleged to have told Paul that forcing Trayson to kneel was a way to ensure that the apology was sincere.

‘If I had said to him “Apologize and get back to class”… it would’ve meant nothing,’ Holian is quoted as saying.

‘So it was changing the way you say “I apologize”.’

Holian is reported to have told Paul that he was told about the kneeling apology by the Nigerian father of a former student at the school.

‘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”,’ the Daily News quotes Holian as saying.

‘I want to assure you that St. Martin’s neither condones nor accepts the actions of our headmaster,’ acting headmaster James Conway wrote to parents in the email

‘I’ve never seen that before.’

Holian said that left an impression on him and that he thought it was an appropriate way to discipline all children regardless of race.

‘I have six kids, and four boys. And if one of them is really acting rude and arrogant… I will say at times, “Get on your knees and apologize”,’ Holian is reported to have told Paul.

‘I was speaking to your son as I would my own son.’

Holian is then reported to have told Paul: ‘I’m sorry if you’re upset. It wasn’t a thought-out situation.’

Paul said she has no plans to accept Holian’s apology.

‘He showed no remorse until he realized how it’s impacted my son,’ Paul said.

‘He’s going to therapy. He’s been very reserved and humiliated.’

She said Trayson has been traumatized to the point where he is fearful of going back to in-person instruction and tries to avoid the headmaster and teacher.

While Paul said that placing Holian on leave is a ‘step in the right direction,’ the school needs to do more.

She has reportedly hired a lawyer.

‘What else can happen where it doesn’t occur again to any other African-American or Haitian-American students there?’ she asked. 

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