Mother claims school headmaster forced her Black son to kneel while apologizing to White teacher

The headmaster at a Long Island catholic school has been placed on leave after a parent claimed that he made her Black, 11-year-old son kneel while apologizing to his White teacher. CBS New York's Kiran Dhillon reports.

Video Transcript

JESSICA MOORE: We begin with a Long Island mother who says her Black son was forced by a white school administrator to kneel while apologizing to a teacher, and tonight she's calling that act racist. New at 11, CBS 2's Kiran Dhillon spoke with that mother.

TRISHA PAUL: He's hurt, humiliated, sad, disappointed. He's just going through a lot of the emotions now.

KIRAN DHILLON: Trisha Paul says her 11-year-old son is traumatized after an incident at his school, St. Martin de Porres Marianist, last month. She says after her son was sent to headmaster, John Holian's, office for doing the wrong assignment in class, Holian told him to get on his knees while apologizing to his white female teacher.

TRISHA PAUL: He stated that he should apologize the African or the Nigerian way, which was to kneel down.

KIRAN DHILLON: Later, the boy told his mother, and horrified, Paul asked the headmaster about the incident. She says Holian told her he learned about the ritual from a Nigerian family whose child used to go to the school.

TRISHA PAUL: There was an African father who came in and told their child to apologize the African or Nigerian away. And that's when it dawned upon me that maybe he generalized my child because he was Black.

KIRAN DHILLON: The Haitian-American mom says she asked the headmaster whether the act was standard practice and was told this was the first time a student had been asked to kneel while making an apology.

TRISHA PAUL: My son is not African, you know. You generalize everyone because they're Black? You just assumed that my child is Nigerian? It was done simply because he was Black.

KIRAN DHILLON: In a meeting with the headmaster, Paul says Holian apologized and told the family his actions were simply disciplinary in nature. Headmaster Holian did not respond to our request for comment, but the school did forward us a letter it sent to parents which says it does not condone Holian's actions, adding they are not consistent with the school's policies. Meanwhile, the headmaster is now on a leave of absence while the school investigates the incident. Paul says while leave is a step in the right direction, she wants Holian to step down, for staff to receive racially sensitive training, and for child disciplinary measures to be laid out in the school's code of conduct.

TRISHA PAUL: We need to make sure that there isn't anyone else being mistreated based on the color of their skin, their race.

KIRAN DHILLON: Paul says her son remains confused by what happened. For now, she's pulled him out of in-person learning. In Uniondale, Long Island, Kiran Dhillon, CBS 2 news.