Black Student Forced by Headmaster to Kneel During Apology: He's ‘Hurt and Humiliated,’ Says Mom

A Catholic school headmaster has been placed on leave after he allegedly forced a young Black student to apologize to his teacher while kneeling, a method he reportedly called "the African way."

John Holian, headmaster at St. Martin de Porres Marianist School, is currently on a leave of absence as the school, located on Long Island, New York, investigates the issue, a spokesperson for St. Martin's said in a letter to parents that was obtained by PEOPLE.

"The manner in which he disciplined a St. Martin's student was not consistent with the policies and philosophy of St. Martin's," the letter read. "I want to assure you that St. Martin's neither condones nor accepts the actions of our headmaster. The incident does not reflect our long, established values or the established protocols regarding student related issues."

The incident occurred on Feb. 25, and mom Trisha Paul said her outgoing, bubbly son Trayson, 11, has not been the same since, the New York Daily News reported.

Paul told the paper that Trayson was in class and had finished an assignment early, so he took out a different assignment and began working on it. At that point, Trayson's teacher allegedly confronted him about working on the wrong assignment, and tore up his paper in front of the class before taking him to Holian's office.

In Holian's office, the headmaster allegedly forced Trayson to get down on his knees to apologize to his teacher.

"My son was humiliated, hurt, embarrassed, sad and confused," Paul told the 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."

On March 1, Paul discussed the incident with Holian over the phone — and that's when he allegedly mentioned that he'd learned the act of kneeling while saying sorry from a Nigerian father who'd told him it was the "African way" of apologizing, the News reported.

"When he finished telling this story, I was just on the phone baffled," Paul, who is Haitian-American, told the Washington Post. "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."

She added: "He admitted that he asked [Trayson] to kneel down. He didn't acknowledge what happened was wrong or how I felt. … He wasn't remorseful or apologetic at all."

Paul told the Post that she and Holian met in person three days after the phone call, and he allegedly repeated the story about the Nigerian parent and said he felt as though Trayson's apology would not have been "genuine" had he been standing while giving it.

"He's just hurt and humiliated," Paul said of her son, whom she put back on a remote learning schedule in March.

Holian — who did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment —told the News, "We love our students here," and noted that a "vast majority" of students were students of color.

St. Martin's has about 400 students, and tuition is about $15,000 per year, the Post reported.

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